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Open Thread 138.25

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1,258 Responses to Open Thread 138.25

  1. Lambert says:

    @Bean
    Naval Gazing’s fallen over again.

  2. ana53294 says:

    Article on how journalist writes authoritative-sounding articles about anything. Makes me wonder – are all of them like that?

    The thing I like about Scott is that he either knows a subject, and can share personal anecdotes and such, or he acknowledges his lack of knowledge on the subject, even when he did way more than five days of googling. Since when did five days of googling become enough to write articles in specialist magazines?

    • Protagoras says:

      No, all of them aren’t like that. Most of them don’t do nearly that much research.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      1) We have no reason to think the author of this article actually researched any of these steps on how to write informative articles on topics they are clueless about. /joke
      2) “Step 3: Ask an expert” is far from a mere googling.
      3) It’s pretty obvious a lot of articles are written like this.
      4) Specialist journalists exist, and are actually typical in specialist magazines. Filler also exists, even in specialist magazines.
      5) It’s a good habit to always assume an article is just a starting point on becoming informed about a subject.
      6) If an author follows the instructions in this article, then they will be approximately as informed about a topic as any naive person would after a week of research and questioning experts. How bad is that for something that takes the naive person mere minutes to read? The best teachers tend to be peers who just learned a subject, or those who have taught naive students for decades.

      We have no idea what this article on cigars was. Perhaps it was an article the magazine wanted as an introduction to a topic.

    • Viliam says:

      I know a girl who worked as a journalist in mainstream offline newspapers, and she described me her work like this:

      In the morning, the boss assigned her a topic, sometimes something she never heard about before. She had time until 4PM to produce two articles on the topic. So she used Google to find some information, and then tried to call an expert to get a quote. (Most experts didn’t want to talk to journalists; I guess it’s obvious why. But there were a few people always willing to give a quote, and having their numbers often saved her day.) This was all she could do in given circumstances.

      When the newspaper came online, the only change was that in addition to the two articles for printed version, she also had to produce two more, shorter articles on the same topic for the online edition. (Those two extra articles were signed by a pseudonym, to make an impression that they were written by someone else. It would probably look stupid to have four separate articles on the same topic produced by the same person on the same day.)

      She would have preferred to have more time to do serious work, or to be allowed to write about topics she was an expert at, but that wasn’t an option. The newspaper had two or three “senior” journalists who were allowed to do serious work, and everyone else was there to provide a filler. The “junior” journalists usually burned out soon and quit; so did she. That was all according to the plan; the newspaper was recruiting among students constantly.

  3. johan_larson says:

    It feels like I am seeing a lot of ads for veganism here in Toronto, more than I remember from twenty or even ten years ago. Could this be an area where the standards of ordinary behavior are poised for a shift? We might move from factory-farmed supermarket meat being just fine to humane farming practices and meat quality being something ordinary people worry about. Things do change; we didn’t worry so much about coffee and beer a generation ago.

    • b_jonas says:

      Oh right, meat. I wanted to ask about that.

      Did meals served on airplanes change to more vegetarian this decade? I mean, are they serving vegetarian dishes rather than chicken dishes now? I travel little on airplanes, and I don’t take notes of what they serve either, so I can’t really tell. But on two of my last three airplane travel legs, I was served a vegetarian sandwich. (The third was so short that they only served a snack.)

  4. albatross11 says:

    Somehow, this comic made me think of SSC and the rationalist community….

    • Lambert says:

      Yeah, Weinersmith seems to be drifting pretty ratadj these days.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Pretty sure that kind of take has always been a staple of SMBC.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        — wait, his name is Weinersmith? Is he who Isis went to for a prosthetic because a fish ate Osiris’s original weiner?

        • Lambert says:

          He was born Zach Weiner and fell in love with a Miss Kelly Smith, who shares his sense of humour. (i think her research was once mentioned in a linkpost here)
          It’s double barrelled but without the hyphen.

  5. b_jonas says:

    So I can raise controversial topics here, eh?

    Here’s this year’s chemistry Nobel prize.

    The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2019 rewards the development of the lithium-ion battery. This lightweight, rechargeable and powerful battery is now used in everything from mobile phones to laptops and electric vehicles. It can also store significant amounts of energy from solar and wind power, making possible a fossil fuel-free society.

    The 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry are awarded to John Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino “for the development of lithium-ion batteries”. Through their work, they have created the right conditions for a wireless and fossil fuel-free society, and so brought the greatest benefit to humankind.

    What the heck is their deal with solar and wind power? Why’d they put it in this announcement? Note that the chemistry Nobel prize is awarded in Sweden, not in Norway which gets cheap energy from their rivers.

    • Lambert says:

      You can shovel coal, open gas valves and pull out control rods whenever you need a bit more power.
      You can’t tell everyone to wait for it to get a bit windy/sunnier before putting the kettle on.

      With significantly better batteries, you get to store the wind/solar power from when it’s available to when it’s needed.

    • broblawsky says:

      Lithium-ion batteries actually are the only viable technology right now for storing renewable energy. Every other electrochemical alternative is:
      a) Too expensive up-front, like nickel-metal hydride or nickel-cadmium;
      b) Too expensive to maintain, like lead-acid;
      c) Both, like zinc-bromide.

      You can argue about whether or not renewable energy is necessary for the future, but Li-ion is the only technology that makes it feasible.

      • Ketil says:

        Not convinced. Intermittent energy from solar or wind can be used to produce hydrogen or maybe synthetic hydrocarbon fuels (or not-so-synthetic by way of fertilizer for biofuel crops). Or energy can be stored in dams for later hydroelectric power.

        You can argue that these technologies aren’t “viable”, but I think they are proved technologies, and lithium batteries are not available at the scale needed to make much of a dent in global energy supply.

        For comparison, the US has strategic reserves of 4G barrels of oil, the energy equivalent of ~7×10^12 kWh, equal to more than 300 000 years of Tesla production.

      • Lambert says:

        Pumped hydro is limited by geography.
        There’s not many places where hydro is viable but hasn’t been built yet.
        H2 is a slippery wee bastard of a molecule that takes up loads of space. It’ll do anything to sneak through any crack or seals, as well as solid metal itself. And it goes bang in a bigger way than lithium does.

        Synthetic hydrocarbons are a cool upcoming technology, but I don’t think the chamistry’s there yet.

        Biofuels are a great way to starve folks in the developing world.

        Sure, the US has more of something that’s been squirting itself out of the ground for 100 years than something that people have been making in factories for a couple of decades.
        Also the Army doesn’t run on Teslas.

        Lithium’s not a panacea. Neither are the other things you’ve listed.

        • Ketil says:

          Sure, the US has more of something that’s been squirting itself out of the ground for 100 years than something that people have been making in factories for a couple of decades

          Maybe I didn’t make it clear, but the point is that the amount of available lithium is miniscule. US electricity is about 10^10 kWh/day, so if renewable is 10% of that, and we need a 10-day buffer, that’s something like 50 million tons of lithium. Global yearly production is 85 000 tons.

          • Lambert says:

            Growth in lithium mining is still looking pretty exponential.

            Sure, maybe we discover efficient fusion tomorrow or we find out that climate change isn’t a problem or we manage to adsorb loads of hydrogen onto the surface of zeolites or something.
            But I figure ‘lithium ion batteries become an important factor in the energy market within the next few decades’ is a plausible enough future to throw a sentence about it into the nobel prize announcement.

            Also electric vehicles.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          And it goes bang in a bigger way than lithium does.

          Do you mean something specific?
          I think most beliefs about catastrophic failures of energy storage are confused by the amount of energy stored. Lithium hasn’t been used for storing large amounts of energy, so lithium battery failures haven’t been very big. The worst energy storage disasters have been dam collapses, because that’s where the energy is.

      • John Schilling says:

        Every other electrochemical alternative is:
        a) Too expensive up-front, like nickel-metal hydride or nickel-cadmium;
        b) Too expensive to maintain, like lead-acid;

        I am skeptical of your claim that the life-cycle cost of lithium-ion batteries is lower than that of lead-acid batteries (and all the rest, but let’s stick with lead-acid for now).

        Basically every navy on Earth that uses diesel-electric submarines, still uses lead-acid for the electric part in spite of the substantial performance advantage of lithium. They do not do this because they are stupid, or ignorant. They do this because even with national defense budgets to draw from, they have trouble afffording a submarine fleet’s worth of lithium batteries. But they somehow can afford the maintenance on lead-acid batteries.

        The Japanese Navy currently operates a single, rather expensive, lithium-battery submarine as an experiment to determine whether the improved performance is worth the extra cost. Jury is still out, and that’s an application where performance is a premium.

        Lithium-ion is for applications where you care enough to pay extra to shrink your power system into a smaller and lighter package, or for where you need the New Hotness instead of the Old & Busted to spruce up your advertising brochure or your science-fair project. But for filling warehouses with cheap utility power, I’m not buying it quite yet.

        Nobel-worthy as an achievement in the applied sciences, yes, probably, but the whole “fossil-fuel-free society” part looks a lot like the Nobel committee combining the New Hotness and the Political Correctness for their advertising brochure.

        • CatCube says:

          It’s worth noting that the backup battery rooms at our dams for black-starting the grid use lead-acid.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Sure, but with big infrastructure like that, a lot of it could be legacy and conservatism. Black start became a huge issue in 1965, when lead-acid was the only real choice for a battery. So even if lithium-ion was better, it might not be used.

            However I suspect lead-acid would still be the choice today for the reasons John points out, and for a one more reason — lithium-ion batteries last longest at 40-60% charge . Lead-acid batteries last longest at 100% charge, which prevents sulfate formation. You’re going to want your backup batteries to be fully charged, and you probably don’t cycle them much (both lead-acid and lithium-ion have a fairly low cycle life, but lead-acid lasts longer if not cycled).

        • broblawsky says:

          I am skeptical of your claim that the life-cycle cost of lithium-ion batteries is lower than that of lead-acid batteries (and all the rest, but let’s stick with lead-acid for now).

          The critical issue for lead-acid is operations & maintenance costs. Once manufactured, Li-ion batteries are sealed systems requiring no maintenance. By comparison, deep cycle Pb-acid batteries need to be periodically checked to maintain acid density and prevent stratification and require the occasional addition of sulfuric acid to maintain functionality. Here’s a pretty good PNNL report about the cost of energy of different battery technologies. It’s worth noting that this report assumes low O&M costs for Pb-acid, which results in shorter lifetimes. You can extend that, but only with more and more expensive maintenance.

          Basically every navy on Earth that uses diesel-electric submarines, still uses lead-acid for the electric part in spite of the substantial performance advantage of lithium. They do not do this because they are stupid, or ignorant. They do this because even with national defense budgets to draw from, they have trouble afffording a submarine fleet’s worth of lithium batteries. But they somehow can afford the maintenance on lead-acid batteries.

          The submarine has the advantage that it’s already paying the salaries for the sailors who’re doing the maintenance. Essentially, most of the O&M cost is already a sunk cost for the submarine. A standalone photovoltaic installation, OTOH, needs to have a bare minimum of staffing to keep costs low.

          Also, at least in the US, mil-spec Li-ion batteries are actually pretty hard to come by at substantial volumes. We can’t rely on imported cells, so we have to let small companies like Yardney and Eagle-Picher make them.

          • bean says:

            The submarine has the advantage that it’s already paying the salaries for the sailors who’re doing the maintenance. Essentially, most of the O&M cost is already a sunk cost for the submarine. A standalone photovoltaic installation, OTOH, needs to have a bare minimum of staffing to keep costs low.

            I’m not sure this is correct. If the maintenance burden is substantial in terms of time, then there’s a lot of incentive to get rid of it, because people are expensive and submarines are always really tight on space. It’s possible the math is different for some types of remote power installations because a 10-minute check of the batteries requires 3 hours of driving, but you’ll need to nail down these costs more carefully.

            Also, at least in the US, mil-spec Li-ion batteries are actually pretty hard to come by at substantial volumes. We can’t rely on imported cells, so we have to let small companies like Yardney and Eagle-Picher make them.

            1. If the demand was there, I’m pretty sure said small companies would grow.
            2. The US hasn’t build a diesel-electric submarine since the 1950s.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Yes, the more distributed the batteries, the more expensive maintenance. The worst case scenario is putting batteries in individual homes. I think that is the right place to put batteries (in conjunction with distributed solar), but I don’t think that is obvious. In any event, it is what Tesla is selling right now and thus it is quite plausible that this product depends on using lithium-ion batteries to minimize maintenance and keep them safe from the average homeowner who doesn’t know how to do maintenance.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not sure this is correct. If the maintenance burden is substantial in terms of time, then there’s a lot of incentive to get rid of it, because people are expensive and submarines are always really tight on space.

            This. Reduction of crew size on submarines has always been a high priority, even more so than on surface ships. On submarines every cubic meter of habitable volume requires a full ton of submerged displacement, with all that implies in terms of steel and propulsion and systems and $$$. A typical oceangoing submarine from WW2 had 30-40 crewmen per thousand tons; for non-nuclear submarines in current production that’s down to 15 per thousand tons. And none of those people are sitting around with time on their hands to do extra maintenance work.

            Or, to put it another way, the cost of a battery technician five hundred feet below the Atlantic is vastly greater than the cost of a battery technician in an industrial warehouse, and lead-acid still wins over lithium-ion on cost.

    • Pepe says:

      Saying that through their work they have created the right conditions for a fossil fuel-free society does seem premature, since:

      1. That society does not exist yet.
      2. We don’t know that it will ever exist.
      3. If that society is to ever exist, I am not sure that Li-ion batteries will be considered the main enabler of such society.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      The criteria for awarding the original Nobel prizes is:

      distributed annually as prizes to those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. The interest is to be divided into five equal parts and distributed as follows:

      one part to the person who made the most important chemical discovery or improvement

      The more avenues a particular invention opens, the more benefits it can be said to have had. Thus the harping on its utility for solar and wind power.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      for a wireless and fossil fuel-free society

      You all seem to be going towards power production. Lithium helps A LOT a “fossil free society” on the mobility end: lithium batteries may lose (for now) for mass storage and possibly on life-cycle cost, but they’re just without competition for anything that requires mobility. A quick google search suggests they’re about 3 times lighter than lead-acid – imagine a Tesla car being twice as heavy. Or a wireless power tool being almost 3 times as heavy. They’re not “worse”, they’re just not functional. So yeah, lithium batteries are pretty much essential to a “wireless and fossil free society”, with the tech we currently have in production.

      In 20 years they may not be any more, maybe we’ll have hydrogen fuel cell everywhere. But that’s just normal progress, few things stay unchanged for 20 years.

      • Ketil says:

        Clearly, electric vehicles was almost a non-starter without lithium. Although I have owned one that used lead-acid, and driven one that ran on NiCd (or NiMH, maybe). But heavy, compartively slow, and limited in range.

        But lithium is to lead as gasoline is to lithium. Or rather, where lithium has three times the energy density of lead, gasoline has 100x the energy of lithium. When modest amounts of energy are needed, a lighter electric motor compensates partially for limited energy storeage, but those strategic oil reserves are to a large extent for transportation, and they’re not going away soon, and very unlikely to be replaced by batteries.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          gasoline has 100x the energy of lithium.

          Harnessable for purpose? Volume-wise or mass-wise? If it was the case volume-wise, then we’d get a couple thousand miles on half a gallon of gasoline, or alternately 10-20 miles on the lithium batteries in a Tesla.

          • nkurz says:

            The 100x figure represents the theoretical stored energy, and the ratio is approximately the same for both volume and mass. Once you take into account the actual efficiency of an electric versus gasoline motor, the gap narrows to about 20x, still in gasoline’s favor.

            Lithium Ion: 0.3 MJ/kg 0.4 MJ/liter 60-80% motor efficiency
            Gasoline: 47.5 MJ/kg 34.6 MJ/liter 15% motor efficiency

            Numbers from this 2012 article, so it’s possible that improvements have been made since on either side: https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/201208/backpage.cfm

          • The Nybbler says:

            A Tesla’s battery pack is 1200lb with a 265 mile range. A Porsche 911 Turbo gets about 20mpg, so 265 miles would be 13.25 gallons. A gallon of gasoline weight about 6.2 pounds, so 80 lb for the gasoline, or 15x range per weight.

            For volume, that battery pack has 7104 18650s. The batteries are not nearly optimally packed (probably because it would melt if you did), so I’ll take a square prism of 18mm x 65mm (21060 mm^3) as an approximation. This is 150 liters, or about 40 gallons, so the gasoline car gets about three times the range per volume.

            The 100x is probably about weight when you consider the gasoline car is getting about 20% efficiency compared to the Tesla’s 93% efficiency.

          • Lambert says:

            Are you saying a tesla actually runs on thousands of 18650s?
            That’s crazy.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The Model 3 apparently uses larger Tesla-designed 2170 (21mm x 70mm) cells (still individual cylindrical cells!) but the older models use 18650 cells. Yeah, seems pretty crazy.

          • nkurz says:

            @The Nybbler:
            > A Tesla’s battery pack is 1200lb
            > This is 150 liters

            I presume your numbers are right, but given that I think of lithium as light, I was surprised by how dense that battery pack is: 1200 lb = 550 kg. 550 kg / 150 L = 3.6 kg / L. Given the not-optimal packing, I first thought this means that Li ion batteries themselves must be about 4x the density of water. This would be surprising, because solid aluminum is only 2.6 kg/L [1].

            This inspired me to actually weigh an 18650 to check. I got about 48g. From the web, the cylindrical volume is about 16 cm^3, for density of 3 kg/L. Heavy, but a little more reasonable. I think the discrepancy is that weight of the Tesla battery pack must include more than just the 18650’s, but also the structure that holds it all together. But it would be surprising if this structure is denser than the batteries themselves. This probably means that the “cubic prism” estimate is a bit on the low side, and the actual volume is somewhat greater than 150L.

            Still, I’m surprised that the volume advantage of gasoline is so low. At 4x or 5x, this doesn’t seem like an insurmountable disadvantage.

            [1] Which in turn reminds me about someone’s long-ago comment about making lightweight bicycles from aluminum: although per volume aluminum is less than half the weight of steel, remember that “lightweight aluminum” is still as dense as granite!

  6. anonymousskimmer says:

    https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/11/fed-tries-to-figure-out-value-of-free-internet-services-to-americans.html

    I read this article and have a question for economics people.

    Asking people how much they would have to be paid to give up something like Google or Facebook is not a proxy for imputed GDP. Asking them how much they would pay for access to said technology is the actual imputed equivalent of addition to GDP.

    If you asked me how much it would take to give up my wife, I would say infinite. If you asked me how much I would pay to keep my wife, this would be in the very low hundreds of thousands, because that’s how much money I could realistically get my hands on.

    If you asked me how much it would take to give up 1500 calories a day (from my current diet), I’d say some huge number. But if you asked me how much I would pay to ensure I minimally had starvation rations, well the actual amount I pay for said rations is on the order of $10 per day, and that is the actual value attributed to GDP.

    So what is Powell after here, if not just some boastful talking points and made-up numbers?

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      I’m not sure Powell is after anything, as such. It certainly reads to me like he’s simply citing what research there is (Brynjolfsson et al.) Whether the research is fit for purpose is another matter entirely.

      Quoting the paper, the intent wasn’t to provide a measure for “missing” GDP, but rather:

      [To] propose a way of directly measuring consumer well-being using massive online choice experiments.

      I’ll have a read of the paper and see whether it seems sensible.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Thanks for offering to read the paper. I’d be very interested if it addresses well-being costs of ownership along with the well-being gains.

        I’d pay to not have people expect me to have a cell phone. But since they expect me to have one, I pay to have one. As is, the $5-$6/month cell phone I have is not a smartphone, and so many text messages from businesses end up as “Enhanced message not translated” (which I pay to receive), instead of the actual message they were trying to send. Still not enough hassle to upgrade to a smartphone, though.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          Have had a brief look – don’t really have the time to take it all in right now – and while they did try to make the choice consequential in one of their experiments, I’m not sure that the chosen method isn’t influencing their results.

          Specifically, one of the experiments they did was to ask participants the following question:

          Would you prefer to keep access to Facebook or go without access to Facebook for 1 month and get paid $80?

          We want to reward you for thinking carefully about this question. Therefore, we will randomly pick 1 out of every 200 respondents and her/his selection will be fulfilled:

          – If you choose “Keep access to Facebook” you can keep using Facebook as before. However, you will not receive the $80 in cash.
          – If you choose “Give up Facebook and get paid $80” you will receive the $80 in cash, provided that you do not access Facebook for 1 month. Facebook collects the date and time when you have last used your account. Given your permission, we can access this time with an app (…) In order to get your permission, we will contact you via email. You can revoke this permission at any time.

          The experiment was carried out on two samples in two consecutive years – 2016 and 2017 – n=1497 and n=1388, respectively. The sample selection process seems prima facie sensible. The price point was varied across $1, $10-$100 in increments of $10 and $1000 (12 points). Each respondent was asked the question once, take it or leave it, with a single price point.

          The first thing that strikes me about this setup is that the question isn’t asking how much money you would accept to give up Facebook, but rather whether you’d give up Facebook for a 1 in 200 chance of winning $X – a very different question. I would expect people to want a more generous payout for giving up some known value if receiving it is uncertain.

          Secondly, I am unable to readily locate any discussion of follow-up – was anyone’s usage actually measured and did anyone actually get any money. Like I said, I’ve just skimmed the paper, so I may have missed it, but I would consider the lack of such a follow-up a major methodological failure.

          I’ll say more when I have time to give it an in-depth read.

          • Rob K says:

            @Faza I don’t think you have the methodology quite right, but I have problems with the way it works in my understanding.

            The method, in several of their different approaches to assigning a value, seems to be that you either enter a bid or say yes or no to their bid for staying off facebook for a month. There’s some chance that you may be picked to actually have this transaction go through. Which is to say, you aren’t being asked to buy a lottery ticket (so to speak) by staying off facebook, you’re entering a bid that may or may not be instantaneously turned into a real transaction. I assume this is to allow them to get more data without expanding their budget too much.

            My quibble with the methodology is that they don’t lock you out of facebook, they just don’t pay you unless you stay off it for a month. This makes it rational to accept really low bids if you’re taking the survey.

            What would it cost to get me to accept being locked out of facebook for a month? I dunno, but probably $20 or so, there are plausible reasons I might want to see something on there. What bid would I accept for staying off facebook for a month, with no penalty save not receiving the money if I do go on there? Basically anything, it’s just free money if I don’t feel any particular urge to go on facebook in the coming month.

            If everyone thought like me their reported valuation would be super low. Clearly everyone doesn’t think like me, and their work would appear to suggest a floor value, but this still seems like an experimental design issue.

            I was also unable to find details of what the completion rate of the people who accepted the offer were.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            @Rob K, I was in a bit of a hurry, so I may have gotten something wrong. What do you mean exactly? The question is quoted verbatim from the Supplementary Information, as are the price points and the sample sizes.

            Fully agree with your reservations vis a vis block access to Facebook v. get a reward for not using Facebook.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Thanks Faza and Rob for reading it and reporting back.

          • Rob K says:

            @Faza

            The part I was quibbling with was”whether you’d give up Facebook for a 1 in 200 chance of winning $X.” This may just be a communication issue; to me that sounds like it’s describing a transaction where only 1 in 200 participants who gives up facebook gets paid, whereas what they seem to be doing is a deal where 1 in 200 participants who names a price then receives the chance to give up facebook and get paid that price.

            This is, ultimately, not a particularly important thing to straighten out. But that’s what I was getting at.

    • Well... says:

      I once saw an article that said most people would not give up their FB accounts for anything less than [some surprisingly high number I can’t recall at the moment]. It didn’t make much of an impact because I gave up my account for free, and actually consider it to have been a “value-added” decision (so it’s as if I was paid to do it). So have many other people.

    • Ketil says:

      If you asked me how much it would take to give up my wife, I would say infinite.

      There are two things at work here. I think it is a well known fallacy (or what you call it) that people in general are loss averse. A good illustration (heard on the Econtalk podcast, I think) is that you want to go to a concert, but don’t have tickets, and don’t want to pay the $500 bucks scalpers are asking. If you then find tickets on the street, you happily go to the concert – rather than sell the tickets for $500.

      I think this effect gets more profound when large values are at stake, partly because of diminishing utility from wealth (it is much worse for me to have my income reduced by 90% than to have it increased by 90%, or even increased by 1000%).

      The survey seems to have addressed this by asking about a month of Facebook and compensations on the order of tens of dollars.

      The important bit: there is a huge amount of value created in final consumption, in the difference between what I would be willing to pay, and the actual price tag. This is pure profit for the consumer, and it is big. Especially for everything online that is basically free to use – I can hardly imagine going back to not having email, Wikipedia, Google’s services, and so on. Even something as annoying and moderately useful as Facebook.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        The concert ticket issue has a middle-man problem, in that it plausibly takes more effort to sell tickets for $500 than it takes to go to the concert. So the actual opportunity cost of the tickets to the lucky concert-goer is less than $500.

        I understand this. But when it comes to wellbeing I think it’s generally assumed that individual humans are only capable of experiencing a finite amount of it, regardless. And it’s quite an argument to say that the amount we experience changes in average capacity over enough years.

        Ultimately this wellbeing does translate to GDP, though. So I think changes to GDP are ultimately the only things we can measure as a true proxy for wellbeing-over-time.

        We used to be able to discuss the news or entertainment with anyone, and get the wellbeing of bonding (to the extent differing opinions allowed) with anyone. Not so much anymore with the vast amount of variety available. This is a real trade-off, and while many people miss wellbeing like this, getting it back becomes more difficult, if not impossible.

        (I’ve never used Facebook, so have no understanding of what anyone gets from it. I however can understand the cost to someone of forgoing Facebook when sufficient numbers of people they interact with have transitioned to Facebook. If the offer was to an entire network of people [e.g. a PTA group] to forgo Facebook, then they may forgo it much easier than a single person, as they can easily transition to phonecalls, ham radio, neighborly chats, etc… So the ultimate value of Facebook is not the sum of its value to each user.)

        Edit: removing words and a character to align Facebook on three separate lines, and on a fifth line one line below the three lines.

    • Plumber says:

      @anonymousskimmer >

      “…how much they would have to be paid to give up something like Google or Facebook…”

      I’ve only been on Facebook for a couple of months and it’s entertaining, but I will go without it for a month for a sourdough bread corned beef sandwich with mustard and tomato slices, plus a pint of NewCastle brown ale or a tasty equivalent beer.

      To give up Google for a month as well have someone come to my job at quitting time on a Thursday or Friday, and drive me and my car to within a mile of my house, plus the sandwich and beer.

    • blipnickels says:

      I think they’re talking about price vs consumer surplus and trying to divine consumer surplus.

      Almost every thing you own or consume is actually more valuable than what you paid for it. The easiest way to think about this is water. Clean drinking water is literally the most valuable physical good because you die in three days without it. Yet it’s ridiculously cheap, so cheap that most renters have never seen a water bill. Same for food, heat, most of the basic necessities besides shelter (housing).

      This creates a problem for economists and the way they/we model it is consumer surplus and producer surplus. Producer surplus is baaasically profit, but consumer profit is the theoretical max price you would pay for something. So theoretically I would buy bourbon at $50/fifth, but because of companies competing with each other I actually buy it for $25. I therefore get $25 of consumer surplus and the producer/bourbon distiller gets $25 minus costs/distribution as profit. Joel on Software had a really good post on this.

      This creates an issue because we can’t really measure consumer surplus. We can measure costs/profits very well and we know what people pay for stuff but we don’t really know what it’s worth. So GDP isn’t actually the value of all good and services produced, it’s literally the lowest possible value because we’re presuming no one valued those goods at more than what they paid for them.

      Powell is waving at this problem because there’s lots of new things that have $0 price: Facebook, Google, TV in a sense as well. They obviously have some value beyond showing ads but there’s no way we can measure it.

      As for the paper itself, Faza (TCM)’s description makes it sound really clever but I doubt they’re within miles of a solution and the answers they gave are ridiculous enough (except for FB) that I feel pretty justified in dismissing them. They’re basically shooting for the Holy Grail of economics, since if we can directly consumer surplus, we basically know both demand and supply for every good and can ditch the price system (and probably capitalism too).

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Thanks. I can see the reason for theoretical economists trying to measure this Holy Grail (which I believe isn’t possible to accurately measure, since first you need to solve the externality and sum-of-parts problems), but it does seem ridiculous for an applied economist to talk about it.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        So GDP isn’t actually the value of all good and services produced, it’s literally the lowest possible value

        It’s not the lowest possible value when considering non-returnable items that the buyer regrets buying. Something plausibly more frequent these days with more frequent remote purchases.

  7. johan_larson says:

    In tomorrow’s OT we’ll start discussing the second film in the SCC watch-along, “I Am Mother”. Let me strongly suggest that you watch the film before reading any of the posts in that subthread. “I Am Mother” is a sci-fi thriller, and there are some twists you wouldn’t want spoiled.

  8. blipnickels says:

    How would you find a copy of Behemoth by Hobbes published before 1924 for <$50?

    I read Behemoth awhile ago and really liked it but when trying to find a copy I realized Project Gutenberg doesn’t have it. This struck me as odd, Behemoth is like 400 years old, and when I started researching I discovered that Project Gutenberg needs a physical copy before it can be put online and it needs the copy to have been published before 1924 so there’s no question as to the copyright situation.

    I did some hunting on Biblio.com and one or two similar sites and it actually is difficult to find copies in this age range, they’re all either new copies for $10 or $2,000 antique copies from 16**. This is bugging me because it’s…just a wrong thing. Old books should be on Project Gutenberg.

    Does anybody have any advice where I could find pre-1924 books at affordable prices?

    • Erusian says:

      Those are mostly going to be in antique collections or old book stores or university libraries. I have to imagine that there’s a lot more of them in England than here. New England, which imported the majority of books at the time, was so partisan against Hobbes’ side that it shipped soldiers back to England to fight and almost ignored the Restoration government as much as it could.

    • beleester says:

      I’m surprised Project Gutenberg needs not just the work to predate 1924 but the exact copy – are they worried that someone might have added something to a post-1924 reprint that could still be under copyright?

      Someone appears to have uploaded the text of Behemoth (among other things) from an 1839 collection of Hobbes’ work. That might be a good general strategy for finding lesser-known works – search for anthologies instead of the individual texts.

      • Nick says:

        See PG’s Copyright FAQ C.16–19. That’s exactly the problem—modern publishers can and usually do add enough material to qualify under a new copyright. The main body of the book might be in the public domain, but you’ll have to prove it’s so. You can if for instance the book’s copyright lists it as a reprint of an edition in the public domain, but of course most don’t do that, either.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      The Internet Archive has two copies of Behemoth, both of them from 1889. So step 1, locate a pre-1924 physical copy of Behemoth and scan it, has already been done for you. There is no need to buy anything.

      If you want it on Project Gutenberg, it is now up to you to put it through the Distributed Proofreaders process. I recommend you use the second scan as a base, since it appears to be much higher quality than the first scan, and has already been OCR’d.

  9. jgr314 says:

    For those who wanted more technical information on the subpoena powers of the US Congress (anyone?), the court of appeals decision today seems to a be a source to get up to speed on the case law: Trump v Mazars

    Because there was a dissent, the opinion has a presentation of both sides. Also, while that case was not related to an impeachment inquiry, there is a considerable amount of discussion of subpoena powers in that context as well.

    Any constitutional law experts in the house who would care to comment on this opinion? As an experienced layman (I read a lot of opinions and legal briefs, but am not a lawyer), I found the majority opinion more convincing than the dissent. Even so, I can easily see this being taken up by SCOTUS and reversed.

    • mtl1882 says:

      Have a law degree, but am not a constitutional law expert, not that anyone will mistake me for one. It’s a super interesting topic to me (I’ve studied house committee investigations in the context of the Civil War, before it was a Trump-related controversy), so I will add my thoughts and hope this makes some sense.

      I see it this general area as one where the rules are intentionally nonexistent, because when people have real ends in view, and think in terms of serving those purposes, the matter tends to settle itself. It’s not an objective issue. I keep seeing claims that Trump’s behavior “mandates” impeachment and all that. That is absurd–it is designed to be a choice. If we think of it as a system outside of human judgment, then we’re not going to make sense of it. The system doesn’t claim to override each action until the correct thing happens–it allows the chance for various branches etc. to correct another if it it chooses. As we’ve discussed in other contexts, our view of government, and some of the procedures themselves, have changed a lot, so some of this seems counter-intuitive.

      The House has huge latitude here—it is incredibly easy for them to spend their time harassing everyone they feel like with document requests, and working up a narrative that cannot be corrected because there is no opportunity for a defense or need to issue a final report. They can run a smear campaign and then drop it–they did this during the war several times. It would be simply ridiculous to act like this is a totally neutral thing. One check on this is that they have limited time and effort, and so they have to at least be selective where they choose to form committees and hold investigations. This decision is often mostly political. This is why there was a norm against going after impeachable public officials directly. Get rid of them, using the process with some protections for the accused, or don’t get rid of them. You can’t have it both ways and constantly undermine confidence in the person without pulling the trigger, because that does more damage than anything else, arguably.

      The House has wide authority here so that they don’t have to do a massive investigation in order to take action—they can just impeach. I realize that you may want to investigate further to decide whether to impeach someone, presumably after hearing an accusation against them, but in reality, it seems that the case is usually just going to be like with Trump: a major narrative is that Trump *should obviously* be impeached based on what we know–so why are they investigating? This isn’t an abstract exercise, and we can’t fish forever. What are they trying to substantiate? There are possible answers, but I think they vary a lot among congressmen. We want limits here–incentivizing unlimited fishing expeditions would not end well for anyone.

      Buchanan is quoted:

      Should [the House] find reason to believe in the course of their examinations that any grave offense had been committed by the President . . . rendering it proper, in their judgment, to resort to impeachment, their course would be plain. They would then transfer the question from their legislative to their accusatory jurisdiction, and take care that . . . the accused should enjoy the benefit of cross-examining the witnesses and all the other safeguards with which the Constitution surrounds every American citizen.

      Why not just cut to the chase, like in a (speedy) criminal trial—guilty or innocent? The rest is largely game-playing. It is quite easy for them to move ahead with impeachment proceedings, so they don’t need a bunch of time to get their facts straight on a serious accusation. That tactic is basically trial by court of public opinion. And that tactic is used a lot–game-playing is to be expected, and may be wise, depending on your viewpoint. But if it is game-playing, we should not be looking for objective procedural guidance that gives us the “right” outcome, no guaranteed enforcer. The sensible interpretation was that the House could make a stir, but not get documents if it was mainly making a stir or was already decided in its course and not looking to take action based on the information that might be in the documents. (“Even the Civil War and Reconstruction Congresses, which strongly asserted congressional power, adhered to the distinction between investigations for legislative purposes and investigations of illegal conduct by an impeachable official. For example, the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War harangued non-impeachable military officers and articulated broad theories of congressional power, but never issued compulsory process to the President or sought to determine if particular civil officers violated the law.”) If the House is acting in bad faith in the executive’s telling, and the executive refuses to comply, it comes down to who is judged by the people to be the one truly acting in bad faith. If it is the president, the people don’t re-elect him, or their representatives impeach him before the next election.

      In the case cited, the context makes it clear that it was believed Trump violated law with his payment to Cohen. It sounds like they knew enough to impeach on this already, if they thought it merited that. So why are they requesting the documents? To do a more thorough job and confirm the story? Okay, fine. But here’s what the committee told the court:

      The Chairman identified four subject matters that, in his view, “[t]he Committee has full authority to investigate”: (1) “whether the President may have engaged in illegal conduct before and during his tenure in office,” (2) “whether [the President] has undisclosed conflicts of interest that may impair his ability to make impartial policy decisions,” (3) “whether [the President] is complying with the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution,” and (4) “whether [the President] has accurately reported his finances to the Office of Government Ethics and other federal entities.”

      .

      So far, so good, although this could have been done in an impeachment proceeding. The next line: “The Committee’s interest in these matters,” he stated, “informs its review of multiple laws and legislative proposals under [its] jurisdiction.” So the concern is making future laws, probably to ensure more stringent record-keeping (“These documents will help the Committee determine,” he explained, “why the President failed to report …payments and whether reforms are necessary to address deficiencies with current laws, rules, and regulations.”) This seems to be an entirely different purpose, an endless and vague investigation. They’re playing dumb. A certain amount of playing dumb if you follow the forms is allowed by the system, and is vital to its integrity—we need hard rules, not exploration of motives, in certain circumstances. I do not think this is one of them, and that is why we don’t have rules here—we want human behavior to unfold naturally. If they are seriously concerned, they impeach as a matter of course. If not, then they might be playing games. But we don’t have the court making an actual judgment on their motives—we understand the House acts politically most of the time, and that such things are subjective. It’s not about whether they are being political, but about whether they are being serious. Around page 23, it gets into its reluctance to defer to congress on what its “real object” is, because of the fact that the executive branch is deserving of equal indulgence in a conflict. But it notes a big issue here is that the guy being subpoenaed is not the president or an official, so maybe there is no conflict, and I think that is key. This case may not be a good predictive guide, but the discussion still matters. On Page 25, it claims that, fortunately, even without deference to Congress, the court believes the investigation has legitimate legislative (not impermissible law-enforcement) purposes. The court’s reasoning here is easy to follow, but it is really easy to come up with arguments to satisfy this line of reasoning.

      During Polk’s time, some congressmen agreed with Polk that they could not get documents about Webster absent impeachment proceedings. Why? “Representative Adams maintained that an impeachable official ‘may not be reached by side-blows.'” And, “The Select Committee ‘entirely concur[red] with the President of the United States’ and his decision not to ‘communicate or make public, except with a view to an impeachment’ the document sought.” The question is whether the House is willing to make a real decision, facing the issue head-on and with some finality. I don’t see non-compliance as a crisis, but since many people do, and views of government have changed in key ways in the last century, I would not be surprised if compliance was ordered in some way. It seems like the court was willing to accept any justification from Congress, even if the president is the one subpoenaed. I didn’t parse the second half of the majority opinion closely, and may update my post after I review it. But from what I’ve read of Rao’s dissent, I agree with it—but I’m not surprised he’s in the minority. As Rao points out, they can’t keep the issues straight because they aren’t focusing on the purposes served:

      The majority breaks new ground when it determines Congress is investigating allegations of illegal conduct against the President, yet nonetheless upholds the subpoena as part of the legislative power….Throughout our history, Congress, the President, and the courts have insisted upon maintaining the separation between the legislative and impeachment powers of the House and recognized the gravity and accountability that follow impeachment. Allowing the Committee to issue this subpoena for legislative purposes would turn Congress into a roving inquisition over a co-equal branch of government…Constitutional powers do not stand in isolation, but rather are part of a complex structure in which each power acquires specific content and meaning in relation to the others. The Supreme Court often locates the limits of one constitutional power by identifying what is at the core of another.

      Rao notes that despite insistence on both sides that this is not about impeachment, “the impeachment power unmistakably sits in the background of the legal arguments.” You’re not supposed to mix and match these things—there are essential differences. A footnote:

      “Notably, the district court concluded that the impeachment and removal powers of the House and the Senate somehow bolster Congress’s ability to investigate the President through the legislative power. See Trump v. Comm. on Oversight & Reform, 380 F. Supp. 3d 76, 95 (D.D.C. 2019) (“It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct—past or present—even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry.”)

      Why is it not fathomable? You can investigate without being able to subpoena everyone. This confusion is not something to encourage. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Supreme Court reversed–their reasoning is usually stronger than this.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Thanks for this. I think it fleshes out a lot of my thinking when I posted my first comment about the inquiry, particularly the passages about unlimited fishing expeditions and game-playing, including the most fruitful way to analyze what’s going on.

        I’ll have to review this comment a few times – lots to think on.

      • jgr314 says:

        To be honest, I’m surprised by your conclusions, especially given this comment:

        I see it this general area as one where the rules are intentionally nonexistent

        though my confusion probably stems from not understanding the second and third clauses:

        because when people have real ends in view, and think in terms of serving those purposes,

        In particular, the first quoted piece seems to imply that there is no automatic on-ramp to impeachment. This seems the obviously sensible structure. If an official potential subject to impeachment were automatically driven into that process for any statutory violation, then a minor footfault (as the Trump declarations probably were) would lead to a major process, even if that violation was a consequence of the legislation having consequences that Congress had not intended.

        Instead, it seems reasonable for Congress to inquire into the matter with the expectation that fixing the law would be the most normal outcome. Because that is/should be the overwhelming majority of Congressional activity, it seems very reasonable that should be the presumption and there should be a low standard of proof.

        • mtl1882 says:

          @Paul Brinkley

          Glad it makes some sense to you–hope it still does after a few more reviews!

          @jgr314

          You are correct that I argue there is no automatic on-ramp. I might be mistaken, but I think you are saying that if they have to investigate, they shouldn’t be forced to begin impeachment proceedings, because that would be like having an automatic on-ramp. They should instead stay in a legislative role. Is that a correct restatement of your argument?

          If so, my response would be that no one is stopping them from doing things in their legislative role. They just don’t have broad subpoena power in doing this. If they want to revise campaign finance laws or whatever, they can do that without these documents. The alleged violation was already known, with regard to the Cohen payment. Sure, there *might* be something new in the documents to address, but we don’t just hand over sensitive documents to anyone who is curious about what could possibly be in them. The police have to demonstrate probable cause–they’re not supposed to simply go poking around in everyone’s bank documents looking for suspicious activity, so that they can get ahead of it. (Sometimes this does happen, but it is controversial for obvious reasons). They can make new laws requiring disclosure of third-party payments (this may be impractical, but let’s pretend it isn’t). But to say “hey, we learned about this third party payment that violated our laws, so we need all the documents about the third party payment to decide whether we need to remember to look at third party payments in the future,” is excessive. They already know they have to do so. They’re asking for sensitive information–mere curiosity and research is not enough.

          If their argument is, “hey, we learned about this third party payment that violated our laws, so we need all the documents about the third party payment to build a case against the current offenders and punish them,” then that is what impeachment proceedings are for. It’s sort of like saying you have probable cause. You’re declaring that things are getting serious, that you are going to commit to action. So they’ll give you sensitive information, but now there are some stricter rules in place. They are acting like police, not legislators.

          When they ask for subpoena powers for documents related to impeachable officials, it suggests their purposes might not be legislative. Legislation is usually based on broader and more public information. That is how the norm developed—it seemed obviously inappropriate to many people in the 1800s to be casually looking for such information. The bar is indeed quite low, and they can investigate whatever they feel like. When they take this step, questions arise. The court in this case did not find the questions very troublesome, and you can certainly argue that the legislative role might give rise to the need for such documents in some cases. But I see that as a huge can of worms. The reason that presumption was not conceded even in this case is because of the possible conflict with the executive—most of the time, they defer to the declared purposes. The most normal outcome is that the executive takes care of law enforcement, while the legislative branch “fixes” the law. They are kind of vague about this, but I think they are trying to avoid the presumption that the executive is failing in this capacity such that congress has to jump in and overrule it. Congress is allowed to do this, *via impeachment.* Not just whenever it feels like it.

          Nothing would force the House to begin impeachment proceedings lightly, nor would they be certain to succeed. There’s still no automatic on-ramp. The question is whether there are situations where they really *should have* these documents, but do not need to start impeachment proceedings. And whether, if you argue there are, this would not better be carried out by another branch.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        It appears that you are arguing that Congress can only subpoena testimony when formally debating whether to pass articles of impeachment. That they can’t do so when attempting to decide if they desire to draft articles.

        Why is it not fathomable? You can investigate without being able to subpoena everyone. This confusion is not something to encourage. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Supreme Court reversed–their reasoning is usually stronger than this.

        McGrain v. Daugherty , and the general history of the Congressional impeachment power, would seem to disagree.

        • mtl1882 says:

          I am spelling out that argument, noting that this was the position held in the nineteenth century, but that the interpretation has since shifted, and that this position appears to be rejected in the case cited by the OP. The comment you quoted was explicitly responding to a dissenting opinion in that case. I find the dissent more persuasive, and was agreeing with it that the majority’s statement seemed confused. I am aware that this is a dissenting opinion and am not arguing that it is the controlling precedent, although I believe it might become one.

          I suggest reading the link in the OP, which goes into all of this in detail. It is super long, though, and I didn’t finish it myself. But there is some good stuff, and McGrain is discussed in detail. I’m very familiar with the history of the impeachment power, and some of it “would seem to disagree,” and some of it seems to agree, particularly during the 1800s. Obviously, things change, but the “history” of the matter does not come down clearly either way–or it comes down on both sides, I guess you could say.

          Reviewing the majority opinion, I realize page 49 actually quite passionately refutes that part of the dissenting opinion. I don’t find it very persuasive, but certainly you have that case firmly on your side, and it covers all the main points. If it goes to the Supreme Court, it will be interesting.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I read this probably too quickly, and I don’t have the proper legal background to make a strong judgment as to whether the decision was correct or not. But I am going to stick my fingers in here anyway.

      I was rather disappointed by the majority’s hand wavey arguments. They state that the legislature can only investigate those areas they could legislate. To me that means the investigation must aid in the legislation in some manner. The Trump attorneys argued that the investigation was about enforcement of the law that states that the President must provide certain financial information, which isn’t acceptable for the legislature to do. The case was about a subpoena to Trump’s accountants to provide financial information about Trump, since Trump was suspected of incorrect reporting of some of his financial status. It sounds to me like Trump’s attorneys had it right.

      But the majority argued that the House can legislate about future laws related to required financial reporting, and in fact there were a couple of proposals in the House right now for new legislation. So there, the House is asking for this information to help them to draft this legislation! They met their requirement! Yeah, right. It strains my credibility that the House committee asked for this information to help them with pending legislation. Everyone knows they are trying to get dirt on Trump. Trump may well have cheated on his disclosures, but the court just said it isn’t the legislatures job to fix that.

      OTOH, there is a real separation of powers issue here. If the Congress doesn’t investigate Trump, who’s going to do it? Is the Executive Branch going to investigate its own head? (And in fact the majority brought up this issue too, which kind of shows their fakery when they were pretending the investigation was for future legislation). Sure the House can impeach, and presumably investigate as part of the impeachment process. But as Brad says elsewhere, we shouldn’t have only a capital punishment for all Presidential crimes. I think Congress should definitely have the right to investigate possible fraudulent behavior of the President, without having to launch a formal investigation of impeachment, because who else is going to do it? Although it is also true there does need to be limits on this, because it will certainly be true in today’s environment, the House is likely to investigate with no limits the President of the opposite party, if they are allowed to do so.

      Reading the case, it appears to me that House can only investigate ill-doings of the President when in impeachment proceedings, unless they can get hand wavey judges on their side.

      • mtl1882 says:

        So there, the House is asking for this information to help them to draft this legislation! They met their requirement! Yeah, right. It strains my credibility that the House committee asked for this information to help them with pending legislation. Everyone knows they are trying to get dirt on Trump.

        Yeah, I was not impressed. In some situations, there is deference to administrative agencies or whatever that is pretty much absolute—“any rational argument you can generate suffices!” Had this been the case, fine. I think in one of the first “travel ban” cases, the court pointed out that in the past, presidents banned a lot of immigration solely for revenge against the decisions of leaders they were spiteful towards, and then claimed some implausible pretext as the real reason. But rational basis review applied–the executive has that power. It just wasn’t a high bar at all historically, and they admitted this and kind of eye-rolled at the childishness of some of the decisions. But this court acknowledges that this is not really one of these cases, and then declares itself convinced on the merits.

        OTOH, there is a real separation of powers issue here. If the Congress doesn’t investigate Trump, who’s going to do it?

        The issue is that many people assume *someone has to do it.* This is not the only position, though it is certainly an understandable one. What if no one investigates Trump any more than they already have? The 2020 election is not that far away. Impeachment is argued by many to be justified based on what we already have. If things are that grave, one of those options should be enough. If the public re-elects or impeachment is judged likely to backfire or the votes aren’t there (and the agonizing is in part driven by the idea that this is the case, I think), maybe it just isn’t that grave. The agonizing is in another part driven by the idea that there is some objective mandate where this *has* to happen. This isn’t true, or at least not obviously true. Perhaps there are things that are intolerable, but this isn’t a mistake in the system. If the public doesn’t support impeachment, then the system wasn’t designed to impeach, whatever the president’s conduct is. People may want a different system, but that is another discussion. The legislature’s powers are not clearly compromised–if they don’t think the people will back them up, and they choose not to impeach, this is not the executive abusing its powers. It is enough of the people making what some smaller number of people think is a bad decision. It was fully understood when the system was made that bad decisions might happen, and the hope is that the consequences lead to correction down the line, not that they are 100% prevented.

        Sure the House can impeach, and presumably investigate as part of the impeachment process. But as Brad says elsewhere, we shouldn’t have only a capital punishment for all Presidential crimes.

        They can begin impeachment proceedings but not be successful in an impeachment. The investigation doesn’t mean the guy has got to go, if the votes aren’t there. What non-capital punishment are you looking for? This might be more of a problem if impeachment were actually a capital crime—the bar for first-degree murder is high. If you don’t have other options, you won’t get a conviction in many cases where a lesser charge would have served the purpose better. But the bar for impeachment is not that high, or at least it hasn’t been treated that way.

        I think Congress should definitely have the right to investigate possible fraudulent behavior of the President, without having to launch a formal investigation of impeachment, because who else is going to do it? Although it is also true there does need to be limits on this, because it will certainly be true in today’s environment, the House is likely to investigate with no limits the President of the opposite party, if they are allowed to do so.

        They can investigate this, but they don’t have broad subpoena powers unless they go to impeachment. If there are serious fraud suspicions, they probably should. The problem is that, as you point out, limits must exist. I think limiting subpoena power is a pretty reasonable limit. There is a strong case to be made for the opposite position, I think, but there is a strong case to be made for the House to have almost any powers to track down wrongdoing, if viewed in isolation. Why would we want to give anyone a pass on bad behavior? But if limits need to exist, sacrifices have to be made in effectiveness, like in the criminal justice system. I don’t think the investigation *has* to be done. But the whole question turns around this assumption. If we must make sure there is always a “monitor” to guard against wrongdoing, then we have a problem, because our system is definitely not able to do this–it was never intended to. The executive might behave badly, and the remedies are losing office through impeachment or losing the election.

      • brad says:

        Given how far we are away from the constitutional design, I’m inclined to think that if Congress rouses itself from its typical abdication and does something the courts should almost always back it.

  10. DragonMilk says:

    Seems like the HHS bureaucracy has finally responded to frightened doctors discontinuing opiods of chronic pain sufferers too rapidly by issuing new guidelines.

    Will doctors buy it and feel more freedom to prescribe, or will they still be too afraid to lose licenses and take guidance from state-level agencies?

  11. AKL says:

    Would there be any downside to progressive pricing for residential electricity? E.g. a household’s first 500 kWh / month costs $.05 / kWh, the next 500 cost $.10 / kWh, then $.15, etc.

    Benefits:
    – Lower monthly bills for low-income households (to the extent that low income households are smaller / use less energy)
    – Stronger incentives to conserve energy, likely to reduce overall energy consumption on the margin

    Costs:
    – Higher bills for above-average energy consumers

    Why isn’t this “a thing?”

    • What do you see as the overall objective? If it’s using less energy, you could just close down all the generators.

      Looking at it as an economist, the best answer I can offer is that you want to maximize net benefit–benefit minus cost. Consumption of energy is a good thing when the value of consuming it is more than the cost, a bad thing when it is less. So you want to price energy at its cost of production—more precisely its marginal cost. Less than that means people use energy even when it is worth less to them than it costs to produce it, higher than that means they don’t use energy even when it is worth more to them than it costs to produce it.

      • AKL says:

        So you want to price energy at its cost of production—more precisely its marginal cost.

        So I agree this should be true from the perspective of the utility company (to the extent it is a public entity or a natural monopoly). It’s mission should be to meet the demand for electricity at the lowest possible cost.

        But it’s not true from the perspective of broader society because basically all forms of electricity production have negative externalities. To the extent todays prices equal the marginal cost of production, they are too low (because they don’t account for those externalities). If you grant that, I think you will agree that we are collectively over-consuming electricity and that reducing that consumption would be a good thing.

        It could be that increased consumption by currently low using households would more than offset reductions from higher-using households, but that’s an empirical matter that would be highly dependent on (a) the specific pricing regime and (b) any number of things we’re not going to model here. None of us really has the faintest idea (though we all have our gut instincts).

        But yes, one objective of this policy would be to reduce electricity consumption.

        Another would be to increase welfare for low income households by lowering their cost of electricity (or allowing for increased consumption at the same cost). To the extent this is worth raising prices on high income households… well your mileage may vary.

        You might object that progressive pricing is not the “best” way to achieve either of those goals, and that I should instead push for a new energy consumption tax married to a new tax credit or something, IDK. And if you say we should do that, I agree! But it’s probably a lot less realistic than tweaking the pricing model, and “can be implemented” is kind of a big deal in public policy it seems to me.

        • Garrett says:

          all forms of electricity production have negative externalities

          That’s fair. But if that’s your concern, the solution would be to increase the price of electricity until the price reflects the externalities you are concerned about. Then people can allocate resources appropriately.

        • I wrote:

          So you want to price energy at its cost of production—more precisely its marginal cost.

          You responded:

          So I agree this should be true from the perspective of the utility company (to the extent it is a public entity or a natural monopoly). It’s mission should be to meet the demand for electricity at the lowest possible cost.

          But it’s not true from the perspective of broader society because basically all forms of electricity production have negative externalities.

          Negative externalities are part of the cost of production.

          I should add that I doubt your claim about all forms of electricity production having negative externalities is true. For one thing, we don’t even know if CO2 production has net negative externalities, although many people believe they do.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            I should add that I doubt your claim about all forms of electricity production having negative externalities is true.

            Another way to phrase this is that pretty much everything we do has some form of negative externality. It doesn’t mean we should lay down and die. For some it’s worth it, for some it’s included into the production cost. For some it probably isn’t, and that’s just a problem to be solved.

          • Another way to phrase this is that pretty much everything we do has some form of negative externality.

            Also some form of positive externality. What matters is the net externality.

            This is a point I keep making in the climate change context. We know climate change has some negative externalities–sea level rise and hotter very hot summers being the obvious examples. If you start out sure it is a bad thing, you look at those, add some less certain ones, and conclude that your initial belief was correct.

            But it also has positive externalities–the effect of CO2 fertilization due to doubling CO2 concentration, which is about what the IPCC expects by the end of the century, is an increase in crop yield for most crops of abotu 30%, which is huge and very solidly established by experiment over many years. Pushing temperature contours towards the poles means a sizable expansion in land area warm enough for human use. Milder winters mean fewer people dying from cold–and, at present, many more people die from cold than from heat.

            So whether net externalities are positive or negative is much less clear, and it’s pretty easy to convince yourself of either if that is what you want to believe.

            For an entirely different case, consider the claim that schooling has positive externalities. Try thinking about negative externalities it might have. I had an interesting exchange on my blog with Robert Frank, pointing out that if his view, that who got what education determined who got which high paying job rather than how productive people were, was purely a fixed sum game, then we should tax schooling instead of subsidizing it. It was a straightforward implication of his stated view, which he was unwilling to recognize.

            The posts.

        • Nick P. says:

          If you grant that, I think you will agree that we are collectively over-consuming electricity and that reducing that consumption would be a good thing.

          I don’t grant any such thing.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Lower income households often use more energy than the tiers above them, due to often living in poorly isolated places that are harder to heat/keep cool.

      • Well... says:

        Also, I’ve noticed a habit among low-income households where they keep one or more giant TVs on 24/7. I assume they don’t do much to conserve energy in other ways either.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Unless incentivized by government regulations, apartment builders and managers have no incentive to spend extra money insulating the apartments. They aren’t paying the A/C bills. And the apartment dwellers can’t realistically do more than tape the windows and weatherstrip the doors.

        Though I knew one person who live in a third floor apartment and had to do almost no heating in the winter as the heat from the apartments below kept hers comfortably warm.

        • Unless incentivized by government regulations, apartment builders and managers have no incentive to spend extra money insulating the apartments. They aren’t paying the A/C bills.

          Unless you have rent control, that is false. Tenants are willing to pay more for a better apartment, whether that means more space, an elevator, or lower heating and air conditioning bills.

          Consider the implications of your argument in other contexts. Do you think car companies won’t include radios in cars unless the government makes them? Restaurants won’t care how the food they serve tastes? What people are buying, whether housing, dinner, or a car, is a bundle of characteristics, and the value of that bundle determines what they are willing to pay.

          I devoted one chapter of my price theory textbook to the economics of home heating, including apartments. One bit of the webbed chapter is wrong, and has been corrected in the edition I recently self-published (bringing the book back into print after two editions commercially published).

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            I have never, ever, ever seen a rental unit mention insulation, or average heating/cooling costs, in their advertisements or disclosures. This is not something rental units typically compete on. Why do they not compete on it? That’s a question I can’t answer. Maybe you have a better idea on how to answer it.

            I have seen insulation inspected in home sales.

            My argument is specific for apartment units. I have lived in two (in the midwest) within the last twelve years, then a condo rental in California, and am currently living in a non-apartment attached rental.

            “I will derive the profit-maximizing rule by which the owner of an apartment building should decide how warm to keep the apartments.”
            Okay. This is something else entirely. I have also never lived in an apartment in which the apartment manager/owner is responsible for heating/cooling, or electricity/gas costs in general. I assume it’s not typical, at least not in the Midwest.

          • Theodoric says:

            @anonymousskimmer

            I have also never lived in an apartment in which the apartment manager/owner is responsible for heating/cooling, or electricity/gas costs in general. I assume it’s not typical, at least not in the Midwest.

            FWIW, I have lived in an apartment where the landlord paid for heat (but not AC). It was in the NYC area (not the city itself). I think it was built in the 60s. Tenants could not control the heat, but they could control the AC (heat was baseboard radiators, AC was through the wall units).

          • Lambert says:

            > I have never, ever, ever seen a rental unit mention insulation, or average heating/cooling costs, in their advertisements or disclosures.

            Huh. In the UK, they have to tell the prospective tennant the ‘efficincy rating’ of the property.

            But you can probably guess roughly how well insulated it is by age, whether the windows are double glazed, single glazed or leadlined diamond-pane, etc.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            I guess the lesson here is that standards differ when it comes to marketing (and original infrastructure with respect to whether heating/cooling is building-based or unit-based). So it’s not surprising that sellers would tailor their offerings based on these standards, and not mention the unmentioned standards.

          • Plumber says:

            @anonymousskimmer says: “…I have also never lived in an apartment in which the apartment manager/owner is responsible for heating/cooling, or electricity/gas costs in general…”

            I lived for 17 years in Oakland, California in a 1920’s apartment building where electricity and gas was paid by the tenants, but water was included with the rent as was steam heat for a few hours a day for a few months out of the year, when the heat was on it quickly became uncomfortably hot, but while we could close the radiator valves in are apartment so it wouldn’t be too hot, we seldom did because once the heat was turned off it very quickly became cold enough to see your breath inside so we wanted our unit to absorb as much heat as it could while the heat was still on.

            One way to glean more heat was to repeatedly fill the bathtub with hot water, and usually after a couple of months of cold weather the landlord would send the apartment manager to look for water leaks – not realizing that if he had the steam heat stay on longer during the day his water bill would be less.

      • Lambert says:

        Depending on outside temperature and what other forms of heating they have, that might not be unreasonable.
        A giant TV, like most appliances, is just as efficient as an electric heater. (100%)

    • EchoChaos says:

      Mildly surprised it isn’t, actually. It is for water where I live.

      • dodrian says:

        It makes more sense for water than it does for electricity – water needs are pretty much the same across the board – drinking, personal hygiene, cleaning. Water wants scale considerably with wealth – gardening/irrigation, luxury baths, swimming pools, etc. Whereas with electricity this is somewhat so (wealthy implies bigger house with more lighting and luxury energy needs), but hugely offset but the upfront costs of making a house energy efficient (heating/cooling, more modern and efficient appliances, etc). I don’t think there’s an efficiency parallel for water – maybe if you have a slow but costly leak that needs a plumber to repair, but that’s going to be much rarer than having poorly insulated windows costing you in heating/cooling.

    • mitv150 says:

      These could be worked around, I’m sure… but here’s a few reasons this could be difficult to implement off the top of my head:

      1) Different family sizes mean different basic requirements

      2) Different installed systems means differing needs. Where I live, people have heating accomplished by electricity, oil, and LP. They have cooking accomplished by electricity, natural gas, or LP. Their dryers run off either electricity or natural gas. Given this, its pretty hard to say how much electricity a household “should” use for setting your rate jumps.

      3) Lower income people tend to live in older and less efficient homes and don’t have the money to pay for upgrades.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      There was a longish discussion on this topic a few months ago. Longer than you’d think 🙂

      Anyways, much agree with making the goal clear. What are you trying to do? Subsidize low income households? Lower overall energy consumption? Tax rich(er) people? Depending on the goal, you may find that it’s a good or bad idea, and there may be others much better.

      For example if it’s the second, I’m going to reply that 1. energy consumption isn’t a bad thing per se. One could even say it’s a metric of a good life. 2. Households aren’t really the biggest consumer. 3. Lower households are more price sensitive than richer ones, so if you do this and keep the overall price constant, you’ll end up with more consumption instead of less.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Yes I think Radu has it right to ask what are you trying to do here? It sounds to me the purpose of what you’re doing is to subsidize the poor. IT’s a lot simpler to do that with welfare payments or some kind of centralized income redistribution scheme. We already have far too many schemes like this to redistribute income, so nobody knows how much re-distribution is going on in aggregate. IMO, all re-distribution should be done by one agency as centralized as possible, so voters can make rational decisions as to how to re-distribute. These ad hoc re-distributions simply cloud the data.

        If your intent is to raise the cost of energy to cover externalities, it would much more effective (and much simpler) to simply add a percentage of tax on the energy.

    • AKL says:

      The best data I could find in 5 minutes (graph on page 3) shows that electricity consumption increases with income up to 30k, is flat between 30k and 60k, and increases dramatically above that.

    • dark orchid says:

      This sounds like a great way to disincentivise buying electric vehicles, I’m not sure that’s what we want? In the UK you have the additional problem that they want to nudge people with gas heating/cooking to switch to electric, because it reduces CO2 emissions (at least if you buy your electricity from the right place).

    • Honk says:

      This progressive pricing model exists and is the default pricing model for PG&E in the Bay Area. They set a nominal baseline allowance that somehow factors in average use in your area, and the season. There are then 3 tiers of use, with the top tier being about double the price per kW compared to the bottom.

      They also offer non-progressive pricing with costs based on peak hours, or a separate, more complicated plan for EV ownership (which I believe provided cheap incentives to charge at night, along with some progressive incentives otherwise).

      Notably the baseline allowance being based on consumption in your neighborhood interacts with the economic stratification concerns noted above.

      • tossrock says:

        Came here to say this. You can read about it yourself here.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I also came here to say this. Where I live (southern outskirts of the Bay Area), EV owners can choose from two rate plans. One is a time-of-use one where there’s different hours and a bigger spread between the peak/semipeak/offpeak rates: from memory, offpeak costs about 11c/kWh, semipeak about 22c, and peak costs 44c. The other is a “split meter” program where your EV charger is metered separately and billed at a lower rate while the rest of your house is billed according to one of the normal rate schedules.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      I think that if you have complete control over your taxation policy, this strategy is going to be dominated by a combination of a flat sin tax on energy and a progressive consumption tax on all goods.

      But in practice, things like this may sometimes turn out to be the best thing it’s politically viable to enforce.

      • a flat sin tax on energy

        Why do you assume the use of energy is sinful?

        • Tatterdemalion says:

          I don’t, any more than I believe that smoking is sinful. “Sin tax” as I understand it is a standard form for a tax levied at a higher rate than economics alone would dictate on any behaviour society wishes to discourage.

          In this case, use of energy derived from fossil fuels has obvious massive negative externalities, and while the best response would be presumably to tax that but not renewable or nuclear energy at the production stage, I’m not sure how the details of that would work, and a consumption tax on all energy might well still be simpler.

          • Zeno of Citium says:

            A sin tax is more about taxing behavior judged to be immoral. I think you’re looking for a Pigovian tax – a tax on something to pay for its negative externalities, in order to discourage it or to correct a market inefficiency. A Pigovian tax on fossil fuels would take into account the negative externalities (mostly, pollution of various sorts in production and energy generation) and pass the costs of those on to the user, rather than socialize the costs among all of society. This ought to lead to a more efficient market, since the price of the good or activity properly reflects its cost. It also leads to less of the thing being taxed, like a sin tax – a Pigovian tax is a form of tax imposed where the side effect of taxes (reducing consumption of the taxed thing) is the main effect of the tax, while the normal goal of a tax, raising revenue, is a side effect.
            (It’s named after a Mr. Pigouv, apparently, explaining the odd name.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            The main problem with Pigouvian taxes is no one knows the value of the externalities. Usually not to within orders of magnitude, and (as in this case), often not even its sign.

            Another problem is that you need to apply such taxes to all substitutes, or you can just make things worse. A toy example: Suppose you institute a Pigouvian tax on energy. A firm responds by switching from a high-energy-use hot water process to a low-energy-use cold water process. The latter process, however, uses twice as much water, and (from a God’s-eye-view) the externality from the water use is larger than the externality from the energy use. If you try to solve this by applying such taxes to everything, you run right into the first problem.

          • “Sin tax” as I understand it is a standard form for a tax levied at a higher rate than economics alone would dictate on any behaviour society wishes to discourage.

            What do you mean by “what economics alone would dictate”?

            Pigouvian taxes, which are what I think you are describing, have been part of conventional economics since long before I was born.

    • DinoNerd says:

      This is implemented in my part of California.

      One result is to heavily disincentive smaller households from installing solar panels – they pay for themseleves much faster if your household is in a higher pricing tier without them.

      Other than that, I haven’t spotted a downside, because the differences aren’t large enough to encourage people to reduce their household size – even though you get the same rate whether you have one person or twenty people consuming the same total amount of energy at a single residential address. (The extra costs of having a second household are going to be more than you’d save.)

    • Ketil says:

      One downside is that you create a basis for black markets – if I have a household that needs 900 kWh/month and you get by on 100 kWh, I can pay you between $0.05 and $0.10 to let me plug an extension chord in a socket in your house and draw 400 kWh from your quota. Which is a great arrangement, until our jury-rigged setup gets a short circuit and both our houses burn down.

      Another downside is that incentives for alternative sources of energy or conservation are differentiated, even if I can insulate a number of low-energy apartments for the same price of one high-energy one, the latter may be more profitable.

      And what is the upside, really? If you want to conserve energy, increase the price across the board, which will incentivize everybody to look for alternatives. If you want to help out poor people, give them money, and let them decide for themselves if they want to spend it on electricity instead of health, education, food, or what have you.

  12. theredsheep says:

    What’s the point of corporate buzzword complexes? Or whatever you call them–the assemblage of slogans, business philosophies, value statements, etc. that every for-profit company I’ve worked at has cultivated. Usually it’s fairly low-key, just a few official, bland statements that boil down to “don’t be immoral” and “be nice to customers,” only written in a style that reads like consumerist agitprop written by Ned Flanders (“We deliver an extraordinary customer experience with a smile!”). My current employer, however, is quite enthusiastic and actually quizzes us on these inane statements periodically.

    I have never, ever encountered anyone who was sincerely impressed by this anodyne rubbish; the usual reaction is some mixture of annoyance, indifference, and contempt. We freely make fun of ours, since corporate is so determined to make us memorize the stupid things. I am as certain as I can be that they make no positive impact on our performance. My first reaction on joining on at Walgreens (former employer) and reading about “Our Values” was, “if I’ve gotten to working age without forming values of my own, these statements are not going to help, and you probably should not be trusting me to handle narcotics.” They’re also too vague to plausibly function as legal butt-covering in the same way that, say, sexual harassment education does.

    My best guess is that, when corporate has politically connected but useless people it must employ, it puts them in the slogan department where the damage they can do is minimized; my current employer must have an unusually large or well-connected body of incompetents. If this strikes you as a needlessly cynical take on things, it’s not my fault. The slogans made me this way. Am open to alternative explanations, since corporations spend some amount of money on this crap.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Corporate culture is real, powerful and impressive.

      Changing the corporate culture from a bad one to a good one would do more for the corporation than anything else you can do short of accidentally discovering a massive new market niche.

      If you’ve ever worked at a place where everyone cares, is engaged and really feels their job has meaning, it’s impressive to see how much more they produce than anywhere else.

      Corporate buzzwords are essentially trying to bottle that lightning by giving everyone a shared purpose for a rather mundane job. Nobody knows how to actually do that, so what you end up with is buzzwords.

      • johan_larson says:

        Are there such places? Outside of charities and maybe political parties?

        I used to think Google was such a place. If it ever was one, it certainly didn’t feel like one by 2010. (Or maybe I just didn’t fit in, and the culture ejected me three years later.)

        • acymetric says:

          Certainly. There are lots of companies that aren’t one of the largest/most influential companies in the world and I would probably start there.

          I work for a company of about 20-25 people and it is very much that way (although we don’t have any terrible internal slogans for motivating people, everybody just tends to like working here and like or at least get along with each other).

        • EchoChaos says:

          Lost my last comment.

          Yes, such places exist, I’ve worked for them and they’re great.

          They are rarely (never?) political parties and probably also rarely charities.

          And VERY rarely big companies.

        • Speaking as a customer, my impression is that some firms I deal with feel that way. The largest example I can think of is Southwest Airlines. Maybe it is all an act, but when I interact with individual employees they feel like people who are doing a job they like doing. A small example would be the lumber store I used to use in San Jose, which unfortunately closed down a few years back.

        • James says:

          I wonder how many ex-Googlers we have here. I seem to remember at least one other commenter saying they were one; perhaps there are others.

          • noyann says:

            A question for the next survey:

            Are you of Google Facebook ... Shell Enron …
            An employee
            An ex-employee

            Wonder what the results would correlate with (besides the obvious — but then: what is obvious for whom?)

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        100% this. There is a big difference between a healthy culture and a bad culture. No one really knows how to build a healthy culture, so you get Cargo Cult thinking like this. If you actually work in a healthy culture, these buzzwords are not buzzwords, they are actually guiding organizational values.

        Slight addendum: we might not know EXACTLY how to create a good organizational culture, but we sure as hell have a few sign posts to follow. Problem is, following those sign posts typically upsets managers and workers, so no REAL effort goes into remaking the culture. Instead you get buzzword bingo.

        • Two McMillion says:

          What are the sign posts, out of curiosity?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            -Empowerment, which means everyone at every level of the organization has decision rights over what they do, and the training to make good decisions
            -Two way communication, which means you actually need to talk to your employees and let them talk back to you, and you need to actually listen to their input
            -Walk the walk. You want to make sure people are on time to meetings? Then the boss is on time, too, and everyone is held accountable for being late, no matter what their performance is.
            -People say what they mean and try to minimize politics. You can’t eliminate them, but if everyone is walking on egg shells or just shutting up entirely, you have a bad culture.
            -Very limited use of the phrase “that’s not my job”
            -Accountability. You need to hold people accountable for the things they don’t do.
            -Recognition. You really need to recognize your employees, and that needs to be first, not an after-thought.

          • The Nybbler says:

            which means everyone at every level of the organization has decision rights over what they do, and the training to make good decisions

            Problem here being that if you do this, sometimes they decide things other than the ways their superiors would decide things. If these work out badly, that’s bad. If they work out well… even worse, from the point of view of the superior.

            Two way communication, which means you actually need to talk to your employees and let them talk back to you, and you need to actually listen to their input

            The problem with this is pithily summed up by various formulations of Robert Anton Wilson’s “Celine’s Second Law”. One is “Accurate communication is possible only in a non-punishing situation”, and another is “communication occurs only between equals”. Your employees realize their communication has at best the dual role of providing information about the thing communicated, and information about the employee to be used in judging the employee. Naturally, since you have control over their continued employment and compensation, the employees will be very aware of the latter and will try to tell you what you want to hear.

            Walk the walk. You want to make sure people are on time to meetings? Then the boss is on time, too, and everyone is held accountable for being late, no matter what their performance is.

            Rank Hath Its Privileges. Bosses will always have excuses for breaking their own rules; many of them might even be valid, though they would not accept even these valid reasons from their employees. But much of the point of having rank is to have the privileges, so this one is no good.

            People say what they mean and try to minimize politics. You can’t eliminate them, but if everyone is walking on egg shells or just shutting up entirely, you have a bad culture.

            If you mean company politics, they’re unavoidable in a company with more than 2 people, and everyone is going to be aware of them as with the “two-way communications” issue. If you mean outside politics… well, we’ve seen how the culture war goes.

            Very limited use of the phrase “that’s not my job”

            IMO the taboo on this phrase is quite damaging. I understand why it exists, but if you don’t use it, you’re going to get stuck doing everyone else’s job (in a more-or-less-functional company, worse than they would have done them), having this affect negatively the jobs you are supposed to do, and being penalized for it by your superiors. If the superiors also penalize you for refusing jobs not within your area of responsibility, you’re in a no-win situation; the best you can do is try to fob off jobs on other employees the same way.

            Accountability. You need to hold people accountable for the things they don’t do.

            Since there’s a whole universe of things any given employee doesn’t do, this quickly starts to look like arbitrary punishment for failure to mind-read one’s superiors.

            Recognition. You really need to recognize your employees, and that needs to be first, not an after-thought.

            This conflicts with the observation that the people who take credit for themselves first and foremost get the promotions. The usual way out is for the manager to recognize the employees in cheap ways (e.g. oft-derided plaques, sometimes small one-time bonuses) while getting that big promotion themselves. However, employees usually figure out what’s going on anyway.

          • johan_larson says:

            Rank Hath Its Privileges. Bosses will always have excuses for breaking their own rules; many of them might even be valid, though they would not accept even these valid reasons from their employees. But much of the point of having rank is to have the privileges, so this one is no good.

            I would disagree with that. Sure, no organization could live up to the standard that the rules are for everybody, no exceptions. But this isn’t all or nothing. It can be a question of how often, for how big a boss, and for how major a reason exceptions are valid. The answers, in a company with a healthy culture that leans toward the egalitarian, should be rarely, only for the biggest, and only in situations of clear need. There’s no reason why you have to run a company by, “The strong do what they want, and the weak endure what they must.”

          • Then the boss is on time, too

            “Punctuality is the courtesy of princes.”

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Nybbler, your entire post is correct, in a company with a bad culture. But there are companies where volunteering to take on a bit of additional work does not mean you are loaded with that work forever, where you can give bad news to your boss or even disagree with your boss and are not punished, where you are held accountable to key standards and not everything under the sun, and where leaders respect their subordinates instead of invoking rank for special privileges.

            These are companies with good cultures. They do exist, but they take work to enforce. Because if your staff or your front-line managers or your senior managers are routinely flouting your culture, you need to fire them, and you need to fire them even if your KPIs suffer. They are killing your company culture, and your company culture is an asset as big as your physical assets (probably more important for knowledge-based companies). You wouldn’t keep a freakin’ arsonist on staff just because he helps hit your KPIs for a little while, and Bad Culture Fits are just mini-arsonists.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Perhaps there are such cultures. I suspect my model is the modal one in any company with more than 20 or so people. I wish it were otherwise, because honestly it’s plain _exhausting_ to constantly be on one’s guard in conversations with superiors, trying to both obtain and/or report the information needed to do the job, and to make sure this does not weigh badly when performance evaluation time comes around. But that’s just part of the job, and one other personality types manage effortlessly.

            I also cynically suspect that if you were to somehow get an honest answer from employees about whether their company had a “good culture” by your criteria, you’d find those answers to be highly correlated with management rank.

            (And of course if there was such a company, the last thing it would ever do is hire the jaded veterans of the others; you don’t hire Dilbert’s Wally if you don’t want a Dilbert culture)

          • tossrock says:

            This seems analogous to difference between high-trust societies and low-trust societies. At some companies there is sufficient incentive alignment between all players combined with good starting values to allow a “high-trust society” of corporate culture to exist. The employees work to create value because they agree it’s in their best interest. They fraternize because they like each other, and the work.

            Early Google is maybe the archetypal example here, that other companies will try to emulate, to greater or lesser effect. It works well with equity incentives, and is more common at smaller ventures. Of course, the same concept of cohesion and incentive alignment within an organization is well known in other contexts, eg morale in a military unit, or when a sports team is playing well together.

            On the opposite end of a scale, there can exist “low-trust society” corporate cultures, where individual players work against each other for their own benefit. Uber’s engineering department (and indeed the whole company) was/is notorious for this, and “fiefdoms” are a common concept in large corporate dynamics. Extreme versions of this can be associated with large corporate failures, eg the culture of deadlines and cost cutting at Boeing before the 737 MCAS disaster.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The modal culture isn’t a good culture, but it’s not a toxic culture. If you’re constantly lying to your boss, that’s not normal. Typical bosses are not going to burden you with so much work that you miss key deliverables, because missing key deliverables looks bad on them as much as it looks bad on you. They may not reward you properly, but they certainly don’t want to see you fail, because that involves them having to do more work to “manage performance.”

          • Garrett says:

            This seems analogous to difference between high-trust societies and low-trust societies.

            One of the best things that I took from looking at conservatism as a philosophy was that it asked questions like: What is the value of social trust? What does it enable? What increases or decreases social trust?

            Unfortunately, since anything other than GoodThink appears to have been tabooed from corporate discussions, it isn’t nearly as well-considered as it might otherwise benefit.

        • cassander says:

          >Problem is, following those sign posts typically upsets managers and workers, so no REAL effort goes into remaking the culture. Instead you get buzzword bingo.

          I’d say it’s more that following the signposts you mention is hard. Communication takes time, accountability is difficult, and empowerment means risk. these things aren’t impossible to do, but they’re tough because so many incentives run the other way. My company is currently fucking up a major internal project. I’ve flatly said to people at my level and up that even if we bring it to completion, getting what we’re getting at more than than double the original timeline and budget is not an achievement, that this is a failure that we need to own up to. These are all people that I very much respect, that care a great deal about their jobs (in the sense of wanting to do them well), many of whom are famous names in our industry, and the most common response I’ve gotten is shoulder shrugging that things won’t change, and admonitions that I’m a leader and can’t talk like that to the rank and file.

      • Urstoff says:

        From my experience, the most important part of building a positive corporate culture is hiring people that already have that cultural mindset. So when someone says a job candidate isn’t a “cultural fit”, that is a completely legitimate (and quite good) reason not to hire someone.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          @Urstoff.
          Theoretically I agree with you. But can companies really tell if someone has a positive culture mindset? In my experience, no. When I work for a company, I feel obligated to try to advance the goals of the company, because that is what I am being paid for. But when I interview for jobs, I have been turned down quite often for not being a good fit. I think a good fit means a bubbly personality or someone who’s fun. Positive corporate culture has nothing to do with it.

        • Ketil says:

          o when someone says a job candidate isn’t a “cultural fit”, that is a completely legitimate (and quite good) reason not to hire someone.

          And here i thought diversity was supposed to be a goal?

      • DinoNerd says:

        I don’t know what influences “normal” people, but I always compare what my employer does with what it says, and give much more weight to what it does. I also react especially badly to contradictions between them, as those often trigger my “the boss is lying to me” reflex.

        I believe that’s unusual, and probably a symptom of being on the autistic spectrum. Possibly some normal people – maybe even most of the kind that work in HR departments – react positively to sloganeering.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Possibly some normal people – maybe even most of the kind that work in HR departments – react positively to sloganeering.

          Or at least playact at it because they believe that’s how to get ahead.

      • Garrett says:

        (Story as misremembered by me): The CEO of a large company I worked for once talked about the process they went through as a part of developing company culture involved developing the whole missing statement thing. One the employees stood up and asked “how will this be used against us?” It stopped the CEO in his tracks. The idea that employees might not only not buy into what they were creating, but that it would consider it to be hostile wasn’t something he’d considered. It caused him and the executive team to re-think both what the concept of a corporate values meant, but also leadership. You can’t impose values top-down, but you can lead them. I had a great deal of respect for the CEO.

        • mtl1882 says:

          I have a great deal of respect for the employee! But also for the CEO, for recognizing it…although people running large organizations should not be blindsided by such an idea.

          Mission statements/core values are inherently creepy and should set off those alarms, IMO. They do in many people, but corporate culture selects for those who aren’t too bothered, and normalizes it for many of the rest. If you aren’t already clear on those things, it is a sign of bigger issues. In a large organization, or one with new people, I can see how you need to get everyone on the same page, but it really does not need to be that complicated and ritualistic. It should be a natural conversation about priorities and focus and how the pieces fit together. I know this is sadly rare.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Mission statements and core values are probably more useful for people who are developing strategy. Lower level employees do not develop strategy, they perform functions.

    • Randy M says:

      I know exactly what you mean. Maybe it’s what happens when you try to take a simple and direct statement and workshop it through HR, PR, marketing, etc. for months.

      • acymetric says:

        This is part of it (although I think this is mostly talking about internal slogans, so I think it is mostly just HR and various management levels). Also, creating slogans (especially new/original ones) is hard, so it isn’t surprising necessarily that when companies try to make up slogans/buzzwords or whatever that they suck at it.

        I also suspect there is an element of people with power having bad ideas for slogans, but “hey, that slogan sucks” seems so important that nobody wants to fight them on it so everyone just rolls with it.

        CEO*: We should put posters all around the building with “Do it!” all over the building and include it as a theme in our new training materials to remind everyone that they need to get the job done no matter what!

        Everyone else: “Sure!”
        Everyone else (mumbling later): “Man that is dumb”

        I don’t think it really has anything to do with political connections.

        *Or someone high up but slightly lower depending on the size of the company.

    • Well... says:

      I generally agree with your sentiments, but to make it interesting I also have two counter-examples:

      I worked at a small company where we had some buzzword complexes, but they were very carefully thought out and worded, and we were all invited to philosophize and discuss and develop them. We actually did live (or at least work) by these complexes, and we were proud of them. I still regard them highly even today.

      OK, but that was a small company, not a big one. Enter my next job right after that, at a huge (Fortune 200) corporation where they cultivated a large buzzword complex. While we (the scores of people I met/worked with — obviously I didn’t talk to all XX-thousand employees) would on rare occasions mock them or say the slogans in ironic contexts to be funny, most of us did actually seem to like and agree with the complexes, and would often relate what we were doing back to them. Now, my impression was that these were above-average complexes, based on very good ideas. There was even some overlap with the stuff I’d been exposed to at my previous job at the small company.

      • Well... says:

        Also want to add this:

        I have a hunch that a lot of the dumbest stuff that goes on at companies is the result of executives watching inspirational TED talks, getting amped up, bringing in executive consultants who either are the people who gave those TED talks or people pedaling the same stuff as the TED talkers, and the consultants sell the executives on a whole suite of BS backed up by “data” which the executives are too enthusiastic and/or innumerate to question.

        • dark orchid says:

          That is basically education “research” in a nutshell.

          The latest idea that has reached my place is Power Posing, which shows they’re not even watching the latest TED talks.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I think there are impactful slogans and so forth. Ones that do provide a succinct way of introducing a real cultural difference between that company and other companies. They are usually the controversial ones: move fast and break things. We’re not a family, we’re a team.

      Other companies want the esprite de corps associated with these highly performing companies, but don’t have the courage to do things differently, so they mimic the form but not the substance, and you get the workshop words that boil down to “be nice but also productive.”

    • AG says:

      How is it different from buzzword complexes in primary school? Pep rallies and cheerleaders and bandstands and such. Sure, the majority of people might not be swayed by a sports cheer, but for the few people who are, it can make a big enough difference in their morale. And while we may not be affected by buzzword complexes for sportsball or our day jobs, you can’t tell me that there isn’t a niche where you tag onto the buzzwords, such as the jargon of your favorite insight porn sources, or the memes of your particular fandom.

      The value of a buzzword complex is neutral to positive. They would have to seriously botch implementation (lacking enforcement of when employees outright do things against those values, for example) for there to be an actual negative effect. So why not have one?

      • Gobbobobble says:

        There is also negative impact when the upper management conspicuously doesn’t practice what they’re preaching. When the buzzwords are waved around as an incantation for “work harder and longer hours without increased compensation” morale goes down. Your highest producing people feel squeezed and move on.

        • AG says:

          Yes, that’s what said in my second paragraph. There is a negative impact if the buzzword complex is actively flouted. The probability of this seems to be dependent on industry and company size, though.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      There are people whose duties at least partially consist of creating good corporate culture. On the rare occasions when they are good at what they’re doing, they may actually succeed. In all the other cases they pretend to be useful by inventing and promoting slogans you’re talking about.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The book-length version of Moral Mazes touches on this. Less in the HBR version, though.

      • Ketil says:

        Is it really this bad? I work in academia, and haven’t really risen much above the basement level. Nevertheless, bosses have limited power, both since money is brought in by individual researchers via grants, and since the publication track record is evidence of the employee’s performance.

    • WayUpstate says:

      Two-thirds of the way through Kochland which is mesmerizing and infuriating at the same time but it keeps me occupied on an hour-long run.
      Charles Koch built an enduring corporate culture which has remained remarkably durable and consistent (which includes ignoring all externalities of his corporate activities – but at least he’s consistent!). He built this culture by hiring people that he believed (and his close associates in the C-suite believed) would be likely to align themselves with his philosophy. Every employee at Koch then goes through a period of indoctrination (not casting a negative light – it’s just the most descriptive term). Those that can’t adopt this culture as their own appear to be gone after a short time.
      While certain ‘buzzwords’ are part of the Koch culture, they serve as the indicators that you are aligned with the Koch way.
      I don’t know if Koch Ind is the textbook example of how to develop an enduring corporate culture but the company is wildly profitable and continues to grow. How and whether it will do so when Koch is gone I suppose is the question of whether the culture was truly successful.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      It’s a test of conformity.

      Like in dictatorships where you have to recite the party slogans even when everybody knows they’re bullshit, indeed precisely because everybody knows they’re bullshit. By reciting the slogans anyway, you submit to the party, publicly acknowledging their power over you.

      A company is a limted scope dictatorship, hence its internal social dynamics work in the same way. You recite the company slogans, which everybody understands as inane, to signal that you are a team player rather than a free spirit troublemaker.

      • theredsheep says:

        This sounds good but does not mesh with my experience. My current employer strikes me as pompously dumb but not malignant; they could be squeezing the blood out of us more aggressively than they do, but they use the slogans more than anywhere else I’ve worked at. Walgreens, on the other hand, was run by total rat bastards at the time I quit, and barely used the slogans at all. In fact, they’d backed off the cult-culture somewhat; before I joined, they expected you to greet people with “be well.” You had to periodically learn about Our Values as part of your sort-of-annual automated training, but the rest of the year it was just “here’s your job, do it.”

        Come to think of it, Chick-fil-A seems to run a very effective corporate cult. It’s one of the few fast food chains where the employees never seem to be contemplating suicide on their lunch break. Anybody know how they do it?

        • Aapje says:

          Anybody know how they do it?

          Be a refuge for people with certain beliefs, for whom suicide is a sin?

          • CatCube says:

            I wonder also if since they’ve already decided to leave money on the table by not opening on Sunday, it’s easier for them to not do toxic stuff like scheduling people on short notice? I think it’s the little things that demonstrate complete inconsiderateness for your work force that can be the most morale-killing. You can have people shovel shit for 8 hours a day without wanting to shoot the place up if you at least treat them with respect.

            I don’t know, maybe CFA does use the scheduling software to try to get every last nickel, and make up for it in other ways. I’m just spitballing.

          • At something of a tangent …

            My main fiction reading for the past month or so has been Cherryh’s Foreigner series, now up to nearly twenty books. It’s set on a planet inhabited by humanoid aliens, with one island, about the size of New Zealand, occupied by human colonists from a colonizing starship that got lost two hundred years earlier and found the alien planet. Very good.

            The alien society is a believable picture that does not fit very well our categories of capitalism/socialism, democracy/aristocracy, and the like. Almost no war, but legalized assassination as a substitute, with very restrictive rules. Boundary lines that are fuzzy, because it is the line on one side of which a bit over half the people feel allegiance to one lord, on the other side a bit under half.

            One of the several things Cherryh does well is give you a picture of how a well functioning household, meaning a lord’s family and fifty plus servants, bodyguards, etc., works. Which is close to the discussion here of how a firm with a good corporate culture works. Working is particularly important given that a servant who you mistakenly believe is loyal to you may actually be loyal to someone who, at some future point, decides he would like you to be killed.

            Very good books–but Cherryh in general is an able and interesting writer.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          Come to think of it, Chick-fil-A seems to run a very effective corporate cult. It’s one of the few fast food chains where the employees never seem to be contemplating suicide on their lunch break. Anybody know how they do it?

          Preselection. Their explicit, in your face Evangelican Christian culture turns away people who are more likely to be depressed.

          • CatCube says:

            That probably helps a lot, but if it was terrible to work there, you’d still get a significant fraction becoming depressed–horrible work environments have a significant impact on life satisfaction. I mean, you spend a quarter of your life there, after all.

            This could be explained by high turnover, of course. You get non-depressed people and push them out the door when the get depressed. Does anybody know if there are turnover statistics to support a hypothesis like this?

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            I can imagine people being happier when surrounded by co-workers and customers who almost homogeneously share their moral code.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @anonymousskimmer, maybe, but that’s not the case in Chik-Fil-A. There’re crowds of people eating at my local Chik-Fil-A who aren’t evangelical Christians, including – to my explicit knowledge – one former coworker of mine who went there for breakfast almost every day.

            There’re a lot of workers there who aren’t either, according to a former friend of mine who was a shift manager.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @ Evan thorn

            Your response right below this point was more then enough to show why I was wrong. 🙂

        • Evan Þ says:

          I used to be friends with a Chik-Fil-A shift manager. She described how the corporate headquarters does in-depth management training, both for her level of management and – much more – for franchise owners. In addition, they require franchise owners to make that single Chik-Fil-A building their full-time business and be regularly present there, so trained management will be at least in sight of the trenches seeing the consequences of their decisions.

          I agree: Chik-Fil-A does culture right. And they do it in a way incompatible with a lot of corporate business models.

    • Erusian says:

      It’s a cargo cult. Good companies with good cultures and good products and good etc etc produce good employees. They’re more pleasant to interact with, work harder, do more with less, etc. All companies want this but not all companies understand or are capable of replicating this. What they do have is the ability to make their employees comply with anything they can outwardly see/measure. So they put out detailed guides on how to act like those good employees at those good companies and then are baffled at why they haven’t got a similarly good culture. But because they have a bad culture, they have a bad culture at the top too and that means people have the same bad incentives that prevent the problem getting fixed or even noticed.

      Honestly, bad culture is usually a failure to imagine their employees complexly. This isn’t to say they dehumanize them exactly: it’s not that they hate their employees or think they’re all stupid. Well, some do. But most say things like, “Oh, it’s a minimum wage job they’ll hold for three months. They’re not going to care about it or do a good job.” or, “Women love our strong public commitment to anti-sexual harassment policies.” or, “People don’t take risks because of a personality type. We just need to change hiring for more go-getters.” Things that reify the employees into uniform stereotypes.

      Good companies understand their employees are people. And I don’t mean in a bleeding heart way: good companies often fire people, or pay them minimum wage, or demand long hours. But they understand they are asking something of a human being with their own goals, needs, and incentives. They understand the employee has a connection to the company that is both economic and emotional. So they create an environment that aligns the employee with the company and rewards them for doing what the company needs done.

      No one is ever impressed by a new corporate slogan. At least not for more than a minute or two if it’s clever. But people are impressed by corporate culture all the time.

  13. bcg says:

    Sometimes you hear that a study was funded by Big Widget, so people are dubious about its findings interpretable as pro-widget.

    If Big Widget was highly motivated to get this research, couldn’t they just fund a few dozen studies, then choose the best one to continue to prosecute? There’s no way to learn about the others, right?

    • Enkidum says:

      There’s a number of examples of such behaviour (mostly from the pharmaceutical industry) given by Ben Goldacre in the book Bad Science (highly recommended, as are any speeches you can find by him like this one, although it’s about placebo/nocebo effects, not concealed studies).

      It’s somewhat difficult to conceal entire research programs, but with enough NDAs and captive workers (in the sense that they depend on Big Widget for their money, not in the prisoner sense) it can be done, and almost certainly is.

  14. EchoChaos says:

    Given our survivalist discussion below, California is experiencing its largest power outages since… a long time, maybe since it was electrified in the first place.

    I would love to hear from the Californians here about it. I genuinely don’t know much and would love to be educated.

    • Enkidum says:

      They might have trouble communicating much about it, because of the power outage.

      I kid, I kid.

      In my social media circles this is pretty much universally being represented as due to privatization and the sale to PG&E of most of the power grid. I have no idea where to even begin looking to verify if this is a reasonable complaint.

      • albatross11 says:

        Over time, it seems like more and more third-world-level dysfunction and kleptocracy show through holes in the “first world industrial democracy” overcoat we like to wear.

        • Well... says:

          Is that really true, though? I’m inclined to think that 100 years ago there must have been a lot more corruption and kleptocracy and dysfunction in American government than there is now. Maybe there was a local minimum somewhere in the last 30 years, but I’d be surprised if the general trend for that stuff was actually upward.

      • John Schilling says:

        In my social media circles this is pretty much universally being represented as due to privatization and the sale to PG&E of most of the power grid

        The editorial commentary I am seeing is elaborating on this by saying it’s all PG&E’s fault because they are so cheap they still use this antiquated “grid” thingy to deliver power when they should have taken all the fire-sensitive communities off-grid and given them nice safe solar and wind power with on-site battery backups(*).

        This is not a reasonable complaint. The same things that make these areas both fire-prone and populated, also makes them bad candidates for solar and wind power, particularly for nothing-but-solar-and-wind power. You’re still going to need power lines to bring power in from the solar farms in the desert, or from the fossil-fuel plants you’ll have to fire up when the solar panels on the shady forested hillsides prove to be inadequate.

        There’s no way to run power lines to someplace like Paradise with zero risk of sparking a fire during the windy days of the dry season, or at least not at any cost PG&E’s customers will tolerate without running to Sacramento demanding nationalization. So if you also impose multi-gigabuck strict liability for any fire that starts near a live power line, then yes, the power lines are going dark when it’s dry and windy.

        * Specifically lithium-ion battery backups, because every critic wants the New Shiny, and did these people not get the news about lithium-ion batteries being randomly-igniting incendiary bombs that they want to park in fire-prone areas?

        • salvorhardin says:

          No way to run them aboveground, at least. As I understand it PG&E is finally, over the next five years (!), going to bury Paradise’s grid.

    • salvorhardin says:

      SF Bay Area resident here. The outages result from a combination of paranoia and institutional incompetence.

      The paranoia comes from the fact that we had two horrendous wildfire seasons in a row; last year the air was Beijing-level bad for weeks on end from all the smoke and at least one entire large town (Paradise) was basically wiped out. Many of these fires were sparked by power lines contacting vegetation. The root cause is some combination of:

      — climate change making our late-summer/fall weather hotter and drier
      — incompetent power line maintenance on the power provider (PG&E)’s part
      — incompetent forest maintenance on the forest maintainers’ part. In fairness it is politically very difficult to maintain fire-prone forests competently, due in part to…
      — increased residential construction in fire-prone areas, because these areas are often beautiful hilly forested places that are wonderful to live in when not on fire, and also because political unwillingness to densify existing urban areas forces new development out to the edges.

      PG&E has faced a series of extraordinarily expensive lawsuits stemming from their role in the previous years’ fires and other disasters like pipeline explosions.

      So, the pendulum swung the other way this year and they were determined to do everything possible to avoid being the cause of large wildfires, including preemptively cutting power to lines that run through fire-prone areas when the weather is hot, dry, and windy in those areas. This causes large, long-lasting power outages because:

      — Cutting power to those lines has knock-on effects to the grid generally, necessitating power cuts even to dense urban/suburban neighborhoods well away from fire-prone areas.

      — Once you cut the power to a line like that, you apparently have to inspect it visually before turning the power back on. I’m not sure why, but maybe there is some special spark risk from turning on power to a line that exceeds the normal risk of keeping the power on. The inspection is difficult and time-consuming because the power lines tend to run through rugged wildlands.

      There is now a tremendous debate about whether this latest was an overreaction and what we can do to make future outages less necessary. Line maintenance is an obvious step but it’s unclear how much risk reduction you can get out of it. Burying lines works better long-term but is super expensive up front. Ditto for reconfiguring the grid so these lines are less necessary in the first place (which may require putting separate microgrids in some places).

      On the bright side, this season has been an order of magnitude less bad so far than 2017-2018 (fingers crossed). No megafires, smaller fires quickly contained. Of course it is impossible to tell whether that’s due to the outages because there are so many confounders: a wet winter, cooler summer/fall weather, more prescribed burns, etc. If some future season sees megafires in spite of precautionary outages, then things will really get nasty and panicky.

      • Ttar says:

        Could there also be a secret plot to cause outages in order to incentives people to install residential solar?

        • Enkidum says:

          “Could” in the sense of “is not logically impossible”, then yes. “Could” in the sense of “there is some form of evidence suggesting this is what happened” – not as far as I’m aware.

          The explanations given are pretty straightforward. Companies don’t like losing billions of dollars.

        • Randy M says:

          Solar business is doing pretty well, due to recent state laws and utility company incentives.

        • AG says:

          No, because they aren’t installing residential solar in a way that allows for independent power generation/storage during outages. All residential solar power goes into the grid, so during an outage, those panels are essentially disconnected from even the house they’re installed on.

          • salvorhardin says:

            The exception is houses that have battery backups, e.g. a Powerwall, that can not only buffer an outage but recharge from the panels during an outage. This is the combination you need for real resilience, and it certainly is available, just rare and fairly expensive.

      • RobJ says:

        — Once you cut the power to a line like that, you apparently have to inspect it visually before turning the power back on. I’m not sure why, but maybe there is some special spark risk from turning on power to a line that exceeds the normal risk of keeping the power on. The inspection is difficult and time-consuming because the power lines tend to run through rugged wildlands.

        The reason is because of the way power line protection systems work. If the line is energized, a line contacting the ground or vegetation will result in an increase in current flow due to the fault (or difference in flow between the two ends of the line) and trip the protection systems to isolate the line. Energizing the line without inspection runs the risk of “energizing into a fault” and causing the very thing that turning off the line was supposed to avoid.

      • — incompetent forest maintenance on the forest maintainers’ part. In fairness it is politically very difficult to maintain fire-prone forests competently, due in part to…

        You left off one explanation I have seen, that environmentalist pressure against logging resulted in a buildup of inflammable deadwood.

        Perhaps an example of the fact that what explanations you see for a problem depends in part on the political/ideological filters for the information you get. Exactly the same problem can be viewed as due to too much X or too little X.

        Rather like the problem with fruit trees–it isn’t easy to distinguish the symptoms of too little watering from those of too much.

        • Nornagest says:

          Environmentalist pressure against logging probably didn’t help, but I’d bet on a hundred-plus years of zero-tolerance policy for wildfires being the main cause. I’ve got a book somewhere with a couple hundred shots of Western wilderness taken in the late 19th/early 20th century (i.e. before intensive logging) compared with shots of the same locations a hundred or so years later, and the differences are dramatic: the 19th-century forest was much more open, with much less undergrowth, and taller trees but also more space between them. The book claims this is mainly due to wildfire suppression in the interim, and most of the other sources I’ve read agree.

    • DinoNerd says:

      PG&E has screwed up by the numbers before. Consulting only my own experience, power was extremely unreliable for about 2 years perhaps 20 years ago, around about the last time it declared bankruptcy (2001). In that case the result was rolling blackouts, not a gigantic solid blackout, and communication about it was less bad.

      I’m not in the affected area, but other folks in my city (and county) are (the nearest affected area is about 2 miles from my house), and communication about which places would be affected has been extremely poor. PG&E’s web site collapsed, and various local government departments, which should have known better, did things like sending out misleading notifications, at midnight, to the wrong people, strongly implying their power would go out within the next few minutes. (It didn’t.)

      Fortunately, another member of my household follows a local newspaper which copied and republished PG&E’s map, and was able to keep its own website up throughout the crisis. I was able to use their site to determine that none of my workplace, my home, or anywhere I had errands in the next couple of days would actually be affected, unless PG&E widened the area effected.

      The other thing I’d note is that although parts of my city/county were affected by the power cuts, there was never any really significant wind here. We’ve had windstorms before; I had to get my roof repaired after the last one. The Bay Area is full of microclimates, so there may have been bad wind elsewhere – but there was no wind storm where I live.

      • AG says:

        Yep, this is the thing that’s way more glaring on PG&E’s part, how horribly managed these outages have been from a logistical standpoint. Really important places that could have set up independent generators weren’t given nearly enough advance notice to make those preparations, and, of course, the PGE website is a trainwreck from top to bottom.

        • John Schilling says:

          Really important places that could have set up independent generators weren’t given nearly enough advance notice to make those preparations,

          I’m pretty sure I recall PG&E telling everyone in California a year ago that 2019 was going to have major grid shutdowns on very short notice in fire-prone areas across Northern California. How much time did these “really important places” need?

          If the idea is that, when PG&E determines that it will be specifically necessary to shut down Sonoma on Tuesday due to high winds, they are to give everyone in Sonoma two weeks’ notice to go out and make alternative arrangements, then that’s not PG&E screwing up. That’s the US Meteorological Service being wholly inadequate for the task and/or the Lord God Almighty being an insensitive mercurial jerk with this “weather” stuff.

          • DinoNerd says:

            What surprised me is that my employer – multiple sites, lots of generators, lots of IT people – didn’t seem to know which of its sites were going to be affected until after at least the first round of cuts was due to start, judging by their communications to employees.

            I imagine they’d have cut over to generators smoothly, keeping the system up on battery power until the generators kicked in, with or without notice, and also managed a more or less orderly evacuation of any areas not supported by backup power. (Their priority would have been to keep the servers up, not to keep all the employees at their desks with light and power…)

            But it still seems sloppy – of PG&E, not them – that they were unsure which buildings would be affected.

    • Plumber says:

      I wrote most of this before my work start time and I had too many emergency service orders at once to finish this before the coffee break and I see now that I’m repeating some info that’s already been posted, but I don’t feel much like doing all of that much editing to avoid repetition

      @EchoChaos >

      “…California…

      …power outages…”

      Epistemic status: Impressionistic, I didn’t bother to research any of it I’m just going by what I’ve heard on the radio, gab the one co-worker who had his power shutoff, and viewing a headline. 

      The lights are still on in San Francisco and at my house but most of the Republicans on the crew live in the predicted effected area, and most of the Democrats don’t (see what residential political sorting does!) only one guy I know has lost electricity for a day so far, but the radio reports that thousands are in the dark, and some places will have no power for five days (or until inspections are done).

      Some history: Back around 2007 a downed power line of “investor owned utility” (a phrase I’m now hearing used) San Diego Edison in southern California caused, and according to our Governor (on the radio yesterday) they now do some “de-energizing” but they haven’t had much problems or lengthy outages since, but here in northern California things are different. Around 2010 in San Bruno (a suburb between San Francisco and San Jose) a big 1950’s Pacific Gas & Electric Company gas line exploded causing lives and homes to be destroyed and the State demanded more pipeline inspections and better record keeping, last year there was the “Camp Fire” which destroyed thousands of homes, and even though it was more than a hundred miles away for a couple of weeks I could smell smoke at work and my house, filter masks were worn be a lot of folks, staying indoors with windows closed was advised, the sky was hazy, and ash covered my neighborhood. A judge ruled that high winds downed a P, G, & E power line, and that combined with low humidity caused a massive fire and the company had to pay for damages, so invester owned utility P, G & E went into bankruptcy. 

      This year with low humidity, a bunch of months without rain (the usually word for that is “summer”), and predicted high winds P, G & E decided to shutoff power to a bunch of places so another fire doesn’t spark as a precaution and not re-energize until after inspections and the winds die down.  

      Yesterday our really ticked off sounding Governor announced that he’s having State employees also look for downed powerlines (mostly by helicopter) “even though it’s not our responsibility” to speed up how fast inspections are done (I’m reminded of how part of the court areas at work are assigned to be repaired by a private contractor, but they always want “the county” (me) to shutoff water first, and the majority of the time I wind up just doing the repair myself instead of waiting for them, and then I beg for parts from them after they show up). The Govemor said “This won’t be the last time we have a dry summer, low humidity, and high winds, and we can’t let this be the new normal”, and he contrasted P, G & E with other private company utilities in the State, and he listed some “Tech” companies that the State got to help get the P, G & E website back up so people could see where likely shutoff will be (my wife was among the thousands who found the site had crashed when she tried to see if we were scheduled to be effected, so I looked at a map in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper and say that we were probably too far from the hills to be shutoff, but still close).

      As far as I know the City of Alameda (the town that time forgot with it’s mom and pop shops giving military and veterans discounts and some reserved parking) is the only place in the area where electricity is from a municipal utility instead of a private company, unlike water which is a patchwork of governmental and private suppliers, a couple of towns have different neighborhoods be municipal or private,  but now they’re increasingly calls for cities, countries, and even the State to municipalize/nationalize (provincialize? What do you call it when a U.S. State does it?) P, G & E.

      As a customer I’ve had good service from P, G & E myself, in a couple ways they’re better than the water provider the East Bay Municipal Utility District (previously the East Bay Water Company when it was privately owned), as they’re easier to get a person on the phone and (until it crashed this week) they had a website where you could view your upcoming bill on-line. In terms of price per year for service and how fast they do repairs I don’t see much difference between my governmental water supplier and my “investor owned” electricity and gas supplier, I’ve been happy with both so I suspect that I probably won’t notice much difference.

      At this point if the State doesn’t I expect municipalities other than Alameda to take over being a power supplier, some will do well, others I expect to do poorly (hello East Palo Alto where cop cars are driven with a broken headlight!), and with how regulated utilities are (’cause of the deaths) it kinda makes sense to just pay for public employees to do the jobs instead of inspecting them, but knowing the State of California they’d wind up hiring private contractors to do most of the work anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if the State required the private companies supplying power in southern California to take over P, G, & E’s areas.

      I know that in the City of Berkeley (where my Mom lives) gaslines in new housing is forbidden and solar panels are required (but what if that building is always in the shade of another, what’s the point?), maybe those policies will spread. 

      A lot of this is because California. Is too dry too often with all of the folks now here, I really don’t know how it will or even should play out. 

      • This year with low humidity, a bunch of months without rain (the usually word for that is “summer”)

        The usual word for that is “dry season.” It happens that where you and I live the dry season includes (but is not limited to) the summer, but in much of the world, including, I think, most of the U.S., summer rain is not uncommon.

    • Lambert says:

      We were talking for all this time about how to adjust birth rates using tax incentives, benefits and ma/paternity leave.

      But Cali knows that all it takes to make more babies is to turn the electricity off for a while.

    • S_J says:

      California is experiencing its largest power outages since… a long time, maybe since it was electrified in the first place.

      Not a resident of California…but I recall troubles with the California electric grid made natoinal news sometime between 1999 and 2001. The troubles generating blackouts and rolling brownouts, which affected hundreds of thousands to millions of customers.

      Perusing a Wiki article that comes from some searching, I notice that the name Enron gets mentioned, as well as discussion of partial-de-regulation. Apparently, the cost of electricity to consumers was still regulated and kept artificially low, while the cost of electricity for the Utility was un-regulated…and there was a requirement for the Utility to buy from the independent producers at a price set that day by producers.

      I can’t tell whether those outages were larger than the current PG&E outage, but it is worth noticing that those outages ought to still be within living memory.

      • Plumber says:

        @S_J,
        I chiefly remember the “rolling blackouts’ of 2001 for being one of the causes of Governor Gray Davis being re-called and replaced with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I didn’t personally know anyone who actually had their power shutoff, as that was mostly in southern California and back then folks were glad to be in the PG&E service area.

        So far though this time I only personally know one guy (who lives in Fairfield) who’s had their electricity shutdown.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I chiefly remember the “rolling blackouts’ of 2001 for being one of the causes of Governor Gray Davis being re-called and replaced with Arnold Schwarzenegger,

          They really should have been called rolling grayouts.

    • Plumber says:

      @EchoChaos,
      It looks like the effort to municipalize power distribution is getting stronger now, PG&E just rejected a bid as too lowball by The City and County of San Francisco to buy the grid there.

      The NY Times has two new pieces on this mess as well:

      ‘This Did Not Go Well’: Inside PG&E’s Blackout Control Room
      (The San Diego ‘investor owned utility’ does these conditions better)

      In a high-tech state, blackouts are a low-tech way to prevent fires
      ( ‘Tech’ solutions)

      and

      The Haves and Have-Nots of (Electrical) Power in California
      (A rural northern Californian?
      Sucks to be you)

  15. johan_larson says:

    To what extent is traditional fantasy — the stuff with dragons, goblins, elves, and such — thought of as kid stuff right now?

    My impression is that a couple of generations ago, in the 60s, most of this stuff was firmly in the for-kids camp. If it was 1965 and you were reading about dragons, you were probably reading a fairy tale to your kid. There was some fantasy stuff over in gothic horror (ghosts, spirits, demons), and that was in the adult realm, but most of it was not.

    But things do change. The Lord of the Rings became part of mainstream culture, with a bunch of big-budget movies to boot. And later The Game of Thrones planted the flag even more firmly in adult territory, with episode after episode of blood and tits and magic. And of course over in video games World of Warcraft became a huge phenomenon, full of traditional fantasy motifs, and was enjoyed by players of all ages.

    Going the other way, the Harry Potter series is definitely fantasy, with wizards and dragons and elves and all the rest. But it was aimed at adolescents, so it may have pulled fantasy’s center of gravity a few steps kidward.

    So where does that leave fantasy? Is it truly an all-ages genre at this point? Or is it still mostly over in kid-land, despite occasional forays into the adult world?

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Guys my dad’s age:
      Shut off Game of Thrones as soon as the dragon shit started, slept through the one attempt to show him Fellowship of the Ring. Just totally doesn’t move the needle at all. Will always code comic books, video games, fantasy stuff as juvenile

      Around our age:
      Split, residual guilt. Still thought of instinctually as a very light vice, something you’d be better off weaning yourself off of. Weighing the pleasure of another 100000 words from George RR Martin vs. possibly going to your grave without reading the dusty Doystoyevsky or Kafka you bought a year ago

      Zoomers:
      A few judging you for wasting any time reading something nonallegorical in a world where you could read things with messages about important things. Mostly just accepting and don’t “get” that there’s supposed to be a distinction between literary and genre fiction as a concept, or that you’d ever “grow out” of reading young adult fiction. Totally don’t understand why you wouldn’t take The Joker as seriously as anything else, if its being made as a serious movie

      • MorningGaul says:

        A little nitpick: I’m not sure “Around our age” is a very useful designation.

      • Guys my dad’s age:
        Shut off Game of Thrones as soon as the dragon shit started, slept through the one attempt to show him Fellowship of the Ring.

        I don’t know your age, hence can only guess your dad’s. I am seventy-four, and have been reading fantasy since I was a child—I had to wait for the second volume of The Lord of the Rings to be published before I could read it. I do not believe there has been any point during my adult life when fantasy, most notably LOTR, was viewed as kid stuff by the people around me.

        Different bubbles for different folk.

        • EchoChaos says:

          My father is seventy-five, so your peer. He regards fantasy as a teenager thing that he did when he was a teen, but now he focuses his reading on more important stuff.

          He doesn’t look down on me for still reading it as an adult, it’s just his personal choice. He’s bought me several fantasy books as birthday presents.

          He wouldn’t watch Game of Thrones, but that’s for religious reasons (same as me, I watched a few episodes, realized it wasn’t for me and turned it off).

          He enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies, never watched the Hobbit.

          I am thirty-seven, my sons love fantasy books and read and discuss them with me.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        Ok, I’ll bite: what’s the difference between genre and literary fiction?

        • Protagoras says:

          In the case of bad genre fiction, sometimes it panders enough to my various idiosyncratic interests for me to enjoy it anyway. Bad literary fiction is always intolerable.

        • sharper13 says:

          Despite some protestations otherwise, literary fiction is a genre. It just happens to be the genre that people employed as English professors tend to like compared to most people.

      • noyann says:

        Some rough estimate of birth years would be interesting.

    • jgr314 says:

      Another anecdotal point: I was shocked when another friend indicated disapproval that his adult daughter was still seriously into D&D. So, it is sufficiently mainstream that I had assumed it was universally accepted, but not sufficiently mainstream for me to be right.

      For reference, the ages in question are mid-20s and mid-40s.

      • johan_larson says:

        My impression is that D&D, like Magic or WoW, is something a kids/mortgage/job adult can do, but they’re definitely putting on the nerd robe and wizard hat by doing so. Some video games seem to be more accepted, perhaps because they’re more popular.

        • jgr314 says:

          I guess I’m so far into nerd country that people ’round here don’t need to put on special robes or hats for D&D, we are already wearing them.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The mid 1960s are also when you get “Puff, The Magic Dragon”

      A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
      Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys
      One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
      And puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar

      But was this just an aberration? I was under the impression most of those folk tales were originally for everyone. Tolkein in 1939 suggests that “the association of children and fairy-stories is an accident of our domestic history”, but we might suspect bias in his case. Any literary scholars here?

      • acymetric says:

        I would like to blame Disney, but 1939 is probably too early for that to be the original cause.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        There is of course also the 1952 C.S. Lewis essay On Three Ways of Writing for Children from which the famous line “when I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up”. But it’s worth linking to in full– and discusses Tolkien’s essay.

        The essay discusses the possibility of fantastic writing for adults- mentioning not only the Odyssey and the Tempest, but also The Worm Ouroboros (published in 1922, and incidentally highly recommended to anyone here who hasn’t read it)

      • DragonMilk says:

        I was told that Puff the Magic dragon was about Hanalei bay in Kauai on my Hawaii honeymoon but was misinterpreted.

    • Well... says:

      I’ve mentioned before, I don’t read (or watch much) fantasy stuff but with that (dis?)qualification, here’s my anecdote:

      As a young 20-something I was surprised to discover several of my peers reading Harry Potter. In my mind it was solidly for kids, and at first I thought maybe they were reading it ironically or out of a last-ditch sentimental grab for their vanishing childhood. But then it didn’t stop: I continued to hear about my peers reading Harry Potter even now in my mid-30s. So while for me personally it’s filed under “kid stuff”, I intellectually understand that it can be enjoyed by intelligent adults.

      Why am I still in the habit of filing fantasy under “kid stuff”? I think it mostly comes down to what I mentioned last time, about how the genre seems to be stuck on repeat with all the elves and wizards and dragons, and not much “fantastical” or outside of what would be recognizably medieval and European. This tendency to stick closely to well-established themes and tropes and archetypes and imagery reads to me as a way to keep things simple and easy to understand, for an audience that isn’t capable of doing a lot of mental gymnastics to wrap their heads around radically new or strange concepts. It’s a lot easier for me to explain something to a child in terms the child is already familiar with than to introduce something very off-the-wall. (Which is counter-intuitive given kids are supposed to have more neuroplasticity or whatever it’s called.) Add to this that once you normalize fantasy (figure out what each fantastical element represents and map that to basic concepts like good and evil) the stories and messages on top are often rather trite or banal. Can you really explore, for example, issues related to human mortality, in a world where problems can literally be solved by the wave of a magic wand?

      No doubt some fantasy still manages to do this, but the effort required to find it surpasses my will, when I know there is plenty of other stuff where it exists and where I don’t need to spend energy suppressing my harrumphs about wizards and elves and dragons.

      • Two McMillion says:

        Why am I still in the habit of filing fantasy under “kid stuff”? I think it mostly comes down to what I mentioned last time, about how the genre seems to be stuck on repeat with all the elves and wizards and dragons, and not much “fantastical” or outside of what would be recognizably medieval and European. This tendency to stick closely to well-established themes and tropes and archetypes and imagery reads to me as a way to keep things simple and easy to understand, for an audience that isn’t capable of doing a lot of mental gymnastics to wrap their heads around radically new or strange concepts.

        How much recent fantasy have you actually read? This comes across as incredibly ignorant of the current state of the genre. The biggest fantasy series of the last few years is N.K. Jemison’s Broken Earth series, which this doesn’t describe remotely.

        • Well... says:

          Did you read the first sentence in my post, which was a caveat to the rest of it? Or how about the last sentence, in which I admit that I might be wrong but have rational reasons not to explore further?

          I wrote those specifically because I knew somebody would say “But have you read [this one book or series that few who aren’t into fantasy have heard about]?”

          ETA: And by the way, the fact that Broken earth is the biggest fantasy series of the last few years but I still haven’t heard about it — probably because they haven’t made a movie or TV show about it — tells you something important: the fantasy that is easiest to market and introduce to general audiences is steeped heavily in the stuff I mentioned. Meaning, when Joe Sixpack hears about a fantasy movie, he expects wizards and dragons and elves, and if you make him actually try to comprehend an author’s unique visions or, uh, fantasies, he’ll scratch his head and elect to watch something else instead. I interpret this as the genre having painted itself into a corner. Maybe not the fault of the authors themselves, but due to the ridiculous level of success by Tolkien and Rowling who then set everyone else’s expectations?

          • EchoChaos says:

            Eh, saying “I’m ignorant of the state of X, but it’s totally stuck in Y” is just begging for the counter “Actually, the central example is currently Z”.

            And although I don’t much like her writing, Jemison is clearly a central example of modern fantasy.

            And I agree with him (although the tone is rough), your view is fairly out of date. The biggest fantasy series recently are things like Wheel of Time (no elves, very different wizards, no dragons and plenty of non-European elements), Sanderson’s Cosmere (no elves, VERY different wizards, no dragons, lots of non-medieval and non-European elements), Bas-Lag (no elves, no wizards, European, but very non-medieval).

            If you’re not interested in the genre, that’s fair.

          • Well... says:

            That’s interesting. Judging by the OP and past discussions, it seems not just my but most people’s view of fantasy is out of date! So why is that? Why has non-elf/wizard/dragon fantasy failed, among non-fantasy-connoisseurs, to make a lasting impression that updates the image of the genre it belongs to? Why in 2019 are we still looking at British-accented dwarfs and enchanted castles if a fantasy movie comes on?

            After all, we no longer think of sci-fi as Golden-Age-of-Sci-Fi stuff about heroic explorers bedding purple alien chicks and zapping evil green guys with ray guns; that genre now encompasses everything from space operas (Interstellar, Ad Astra) to stories about AI (Ex Machina, Her, Westworld) to stuff about genetic engineering (Gattaca) and time travel (Looper, Primer). So how did fantasy paint itself (or at least its popular image) into a corner?

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Well…

            I suspect it has to do with the fact that most people just don’t read at all.

            Sci-fi’s change in perception was driven more by TV shows than by books, which grew out of the “Golden Age” very rapidly.

          • Well... says:

            So? If people don’t read that should affect sci-fi as well. Hasn’t fantasy had its share of TV shows? Xena and Hercules were big when I was a kid, and now we have GoT. Plus the big LotR and HP movies. Why isn’t the outside-the-box stuff growing out of this very rapidly?

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Well…

            You have five examples, of which only two are the standard “elves, wizards and medieval Europe”, assuming that you count HP as that, which I do.

            So it’s probably your view skewed by Tolkien and Rowling, yes.

          • Well... says:

            GoT is clearly an example as well, so that’s 3/5. A majority. A super-majority, even!

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Well…

            GoT is interesting because it isn’t really that. It’s very low magic, there are no wizards. It does have dragons and medieval Europe, but no elves or other fantasy races.

            I specifically excluded it as not meeting those basic criteria because of that.

            I think you’re stretching your original claim a bit to put GoT in with them.

          • Well... says:

            Huh? I only watched a couple seasons but I remember a scene where there’s some kind of seer or sorcerer and he’s pacing around a magic fire and he’s able to predict something about the future or making something happen far away…plus that kid who falls out of the tower has mystical visions, and aren’t the white walkers a kind of enchanted people? And OK there’s no elves, but there are dire wolves, and isn’t there also someone who can shape-shift or something?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            After all, we no longer think of sci-fi as Golden-Age-of-Sci-Fi stuff about heroic explorers bedding purple alien chicks and zapping evil green guys with ray guns

            That’s not the Golden Age you’re describing, it’s the Pulp Era. The Golden Age is specifically called that because that’s when science fiction stopped being about heroic explorers bedding purple alien chicks and zapping evil green guys with ray guns and instead became about scientific realism and the sensawunda (at least until the New Wave came along).

          • Well... says:

            Oh, OK. Pulp Era then.

          • mitv150 says:

            minor nitpick: GoT does have elves, its just that they died a long time ago. The Children of the Forest pretty much exactly fit the standard elves trope.

            But I agree that GoT subverts enough other tropes so as not to be considered standard fantasy fiction.

          • Why has non-elf/wizard/dragon fantasy failed, among non-fantasy-connoisseurs, to make a lasting impression that updates the image of the genre it belongs to?

            Tolkien was the major influence in bringing fantasy back into English literature. There is one dragon in The Hobbit, which was written primarily for children. There are zero dragons in the three books of LOTR, written for adults. Also zero magic wands, and very little magic at all in the sense in which it shows up in the generic extruded fantasy product you are thinking of.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Also zero magic wands

            Not really true.

            I mean, technically a wand isn’t a staff and vice-versa, but practically speaking …

          • Well... says:

            Tolkien was the major influence in bringing fantasy back into English literature.

            So, fantasy was part of English literature, then died out, then Tolkien brought it back? And in doing so he set the (rather strict) tone for all the fantasy we’re now familiar with?

          • I don’t think there is a “rather strict tone” for modern fantasy. I think there is a lot of not very good fantasy which is highly derivative of Tolkien—what I describe as extruded fantasy product.

            There is some much better fantasy that is less obviously derivative of Tolkien. I think it was the third of Cherryh’s Morgiane books where I realized that the not-quite-human species interacted with was inspired by Tolkien elves–because that was the first book in the series where they were the good guys, and we are used to thinking of elves as good guys, although it’s clear in Tolkien that that is an unjustified assumption.

            Then there is quite a lot of fantasy, with Bujold as one good example, that has nothing to do with Tolkien and some of which is very good.

          • littskad says:

            @Well…

            It’s not really true that fantasy had “died out” before Tolkien. For example, some of the more well thought of authors in the decades before Tolkien include J. M. Barrie (Peter Pan); L. Frank Baum (The Wizard of Oz); Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian); William Morris (The Well at World’s End); George MacDonald (The Princess and the Goblin, Phantasies, etc.); Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan, John Carter of Mars); T. H. White (The Once and Future King); Lord Dunsany (The King of Elf-Land’s Daughter, The Gods of Pegana, etc.); Mervyn Peake (Gormenghast); E. R. Eddison (The Worm Ouroboros, Zimiamvian trilogy); and so on. Tolkien just became so massively popular that he has tended to overshadow what came before him, even though he was perfectly willing to admit his debt to them.

          • John Schilling says:

            For example, some of the more well thought of authors in the decades before Tolkien include…

            In several of your cases, authors from the century before Tolkein.

            And with the exception of White and Peake, all of your examples date to at least thirty years before the first paperback(*) printing of Lord of the Rings. When people say fantasy had “died out”, it’s mostly that thirty years they are talking about, and what you can find to try and pull in the edges of that gap still leaves a pretty dead-looking gap to my eyes.

            And if you exclude the sword-and-sorcery stuff, it’s more of a fifty-year gap – which gives you the narrative of fantasy being considered serious literature until roughly WWI, then mostly childish pulp that “serious” adults are embarrassed to read, then the pulp audience drifting in new directions until they’ve been gone for a generation and it’s safe to read “serious” fantasy again.

            If the standard is merely “someone published a work in that genre sometime in the last decade, and the fans of the genre say it’s great, so it’s definitely not dead, so there!”, then meh, basically no genre ever “dies” but there’s still a pretty clear distinction being made.

            * If you’re putting Once and Future King and Gormenghast in the “decades before Tolkein”, then you’re definitely not counting from the original hardcover LOTR.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            @mitv150

            But I agree that GoT subverts enough other tropes so as not to be considered standard fantasy fiction.

            GoT has most of the elements of a standard high-fantasy setting: dragons, wizards (red priests, wargs), prophecies, magic races (children of the forest, giants, white walkers), the tv show even has the Night King as a Sauron stand-in.

            However, what makes GoT unique is that in the books and the first 3-4 seasons it uses these elements sparingly, mostly as background. While in a classic fantasy the fantastic elements are treated as common knowledge by the main characters and drive the plot, in GoT most characters are unaware or don’t care. So instead of the classical plot with a party of brave heroes who must journey to strange hostile lands to fetch the MacGuffin and defeat the Dark Lord, we get fedual houses engaging in a dynastic squabble.

            George Martin used the generic fantasy setting as an excuse to write a Medieval political drama, breathing new life into a largely stale genre, creating a work that appealed to adultaudiences, not just because of the tiddies’n stabbings, but the more complex and mature plot.

            However, the fantasy elements eventually prevented the story from having a good resolution. The last two books, as far as I know (I didn’t read them, but I know the general content) were mostly filler. Then Martin went on to write prequels and side stories instead of ending the series. And the tv show writers did what they did. Not to excuse their incompetence (certain choices were unnecessarily bad), but they were indeed passed a poisoned chalice: once “ice” and “fire” start moving on the board all the political machinations of Cersei, Tyrion, Varys, Littlefinger, Oleanna, etc. become irrelevant, forcing the plot into a generic fantasy format, albeit one with a long and narratively unnecessary preable, which violates the principle of narrative economy. I don’t think it could be really salvaged in a satisfactory way.

          • littskad’s list does not include James Branch Cabell who, whatever else one may think of his rather odd books, was certainly writing for adults.

      • FormerRanger says:

        You might try some Michael Swanwick. His “Dragons” trilogy, “The Iron Dragon’s Daughter,” “Dragons of Babel,” “The Iron Dragon’s Mother” takes all the fantasy tropes and stirs in a satirical, cynical, compassionate mix of modern concerns (and technology) without pounding you over the head with them. The takeoff point is the old tales about elves or goblins stealing or switching babies. “Iron dragons” are sentient fighter-bombers flown by half-breeds of elf and human. It is not kid stuff.

        Swanwick is one of those “should be better known” sf and fantasy authors.

        • Enkidum says:

          Also recommended: Joe Abercrombie’s “First Law” trilogy, a deeply cynical take on a lot of traditional hero’s journey tropes. No other races precisely, except sort of magical vampire superhero things, but a fair bit of magic and epic fantasy stuff, except you only ever catch glimpses of the grand sweep of Silmarillion-style history from the perspective of bit players who don’t really understand what’s going on.

          It gets surprisingly sentimental and maudlin, especially in the stand-alone novels, in ways that I think are mostly earned.

      • silver_swift says:

        I realize that I’m arguing against gut feelings that are not necesarily supposed to be rational here, but I think this is selling the genre short by a lot. I mean, yes, there is dumb and shitty fantasy, but there is dumb and shitty everything and the fantasy genre has long since grown beyond “here is some good guys, here is some bad guys, they fight.”.

        • Well... says:

          I guess at this point it’s less that I’m expressing irrational gut feelings and more that I’m pointing to fantasy’s failure (relative to sci-fi) to present sophisticated, original themes to mass audiences, and I’m asking “why?” in a half-curious, half-condemning way.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I’m asking “why?” in a half-curious, half-condemning way

            Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter dominating 2000s movies, pretty much.

            Everybody tried to get in on that, so that is what you ended up with.

            Even then, you had exceptions like City of Ember, Constantine, Blade and all the wuxia films, all of which are fantasy that doesn’t fit your genre list.

          • silver_swift says:

            That’s probably partly what EchoChaos mentioned about Sci-Fi making the jump to tv earlier than fantasy (and LotR and Harry Potter being the first two that got there) and partly because any genre will come up short in interesting and sophisticated original themes when compared to Sci-Fi.

            For Sci-Fi, presenting interesting and sophisticated ideas is one of it’s main selling points, whereas other genres sort of have it as an added bonus.

            Do you view political thrillers, whodunnits, romance stories, westerns or other genres as having similar failures?

          • Well... says:

            For Sci-Fi, presenting interesting and sophisticated ideas is one of it’s main selling points

            Interesting and sophisticated — or at least “odd and unique” — ideas is right there in the name “fantasy”, or at least it is when I think of that word. Maybe my expectations were set wrong by the name of the genre. Maybe if it was called “Medieval European magical wizard-elf-dragon drama” I wouldn’t have this issue with it. Westerns demonstrate this, because they don’t usually aspire — even in the name of their genre — to be much more than revenge stories set in the old west. Whatever sophisticated interesting ideas they present are an added bonus, as you said.

            So yeah maybe it comes down to the name of the genre. Political thrillers, whodunnits, romances…these are narrowly desriptive enough that I don’t have high expectations in terms of sophistication or variety.

    • Eri says:

      As an anecdote, many people I know are into fantasy, both much younger and much older than me, and that includes my own parents. And dismissing fantasy as “something for kids” is uncommon enough that this question surprised me a lot; while I’m aware that such views exist, I have never thought of this dismissal as of a trend rather than some sort of quirk of separate individuals.
      However, my social circle is really nerdy, so I assume my situation differs significantly from the general population.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      The trend seems to be that fiction genres once considered kid stuff become mainstream adult, or all-ages, entertainment.

      Comic book superheroes are a perfect example: once considered firmly a kid genre (e.g. Adam West’s Batman) they morphed to something suitable for teens but also palatable to adults, with occasional forays deep into adult territory.

      This seems clearly related to the 80s-90s nostalgia overload effect. I don’t know who drives it. Is it the millennials forever stuck in their childhood, clinging to the vestiges of a happier life, before, 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis crushed their dreams, when people didn’t use to carry a Skinner box outrage machine in their pocket all the time everywhere? Or is it the unimaginative giant media corporations, that churn out bland assembly-line entertainment designed to appeal the lowest common denominator?

      Even without large corporations, written fantasy seems also quite unimaginative nowadays.

      • Even without large corporations, written fantasy seems also quite unimaginative nowadays.

        ???

        Curse of Chalion? Spinning Silver? Cherryh’s Fortress series? Pratchett?

        • viVI_IViv says:

          With thousands books being published every year you can always find an example of anything, but I don’t think these are central examples of mainstream modern fantasy.

          The only one of this list that I’ve heard before is Pratchett, and even with Pratchett I don’t see his books when I casually browse the fantasy bookshelves of my local bookstores, which mostly have Tolkien, Rowling, Martin, Sapkowski and a hundred modern imitations.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          @viVI_IViv

          The only authors you appear to be familiar with are ones whose work has been picked up by Hollywood for Television/Movie adaptation or used as the basis for video games. That’s fine if you want to talk about how a non-reading audience interacts with a genre, but it doesn’t actually tell you anything about written fantasy, which was your original claim David Friedman was responding to.

          To try and put this in terms of another medium, this is what this exchange looks like from the outside.

          Video Games:

          “Video Games these days seem to be nothing but mass-produced monetized skinner boxes with the bare minimum of narrative and gameplay slapped over them to make people subscribe”

          “What about The Last Of Us? The Witcher 3? Bioshock: Infinite? Sid Meier?”

          “I don’t think these are central examples of mainstream modern video games, I’ve only ever heard of Sid Meier and I never see anyone talk about his games.”

          Films:

          “Modern film-makers are all shakey-cam and CGI. No one’s making movies with real directorial intent anymore.”

          “What about Baby Driver? Blade Runner 2049? Joker? Christopher Nolan?”

          “I don’t think these are central examples of modern films or directors. I’ve only ever heard of Nolan and I never see his movies at the store.”

  16. Bamboozle says:

    Interesting Article I found that is adjacent to rational thinking and in particular re. Point #4 people getting fired for “incorrect thought” when tweeting. A lot of good stuff in here, particularly if you have an interest in stocks and investing.

    • Ohforfs says:

      First one is very good and correct.

      The second one is interesting but i am not sure about it’s application. I mean, usually there are constraints… might apply more to bussiness than politics.

      As a corollary to third, i would like to quote something: “How did you went bankrupt? Slowly then suddenly”. Collapse often goes that way, both WW I and WW II ended that way, to keep with the examples.

      As a corollary to the fourth i would recommend reading Machiavelli on the reasons why it is better to be feared than loved. It’s similar thing, because it touches the fact that losses are more painful than gains are pleasant.

      (also, talk about overselling importance of the airplane…)

      I’m curious, though, how do you connect that to cancel culture?

      For the fifth, i would like to introduce geographic voting patterns which persist for *centuries*. Very much agree on that.

      For a short, clickbaity article, very good 😉

  17. Plumber says:

    FWIW I briefly went to the the Berkeley SSC meetupearlier this evening, I couldn’t stay long as I had to bring dinner home to my wife and older son and take over babysitting of our younger son, but I spoke to a few people in the 30 minutes I was there.

    I left too soon to meet our host, but the crowd was a few 60+ grey haired men, but mostly it seemed to be 20 and 30 something young men and women, a few seemed nervous, but most were smiling and affable, and I caught a couple of conversations about how Berkeley was different than other places, there was some carrots, crackers, celery, and dip out to share.

    The house itself was decorated with astronomical pictures and many books, it was obviously a remarkably clean group home in a remodeled pre-war “four square” house not far from my old high school, city hall, and the main branch of the Berkeley Public Library.

    Wish they started earlier, but I’d recommend it for those who want to stay out later.

    • If you come to our meetup you can bring your wife and both sons, and we provide dinner. So you won’t have to leave early.

      On the other hand, San Jose is farther from you than Berkeley.

      • Plumber says:

        @DavidFriedman,
        Thanks that’s very kind, I don’t think the three-year old is ready for that long of a trip but I appreciate the thought.

        • Odds are pretty good that the three-year old would not be the youngest person attending. My granddaughter was at the last, and she’s seven months. For older little children, there is a swing set and slide in the back yard.

  18. Ohforfs says:

    I’ve been reading previous open thread, found something interesting and wanted to reply but then i noticed it was few days ago.

    https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/10/06/open-thread-138/#comment-807641

    It’s John Schilling question/request about arguments against Fermi paradox and it inspired me to think about something:

    I can:

    Growth is a feature of evolved organism, as understood in the Fermi paradox though (ie: space is necessarily colonized by expansionist organism. Even if a civilization stops expanding, it simply means another one would colonize the space instead, one that didn’t stop expanding)

    My argument is that expansionism is evolutionary fitness for organisms by the virtue of all it’s biological functionality (reproduction calls for more than replacement due to the previous paragraph argument and because otherwise random losses will wipe it out)

    It is however, not a feature of intellect.

    Still, we only need one civilization being expansionist to have Fermi paradox.

    However, further argument is that from intellectual perspective, especially economic one, given our current understanding of physics and especially general relativity, stellar expansionism does not make any sense at all.

    There is no return on investment due to costs and lightspeed lag. And economic reasons are a subset of evolutionary laws – a species which does not follow self interest in economic sense is a species which did not evolve self-interest in evolutionary/biological sense. And it is a species that died out long before achieving technological civilization.

    The conclusion is that there is no Fermi paradox.

    (uh, yeah, i could flesh the argument out a bit. For example, there is no colonization in space in the sense of getting rid of excess population. It is just a vanity project, and extremely expensive at that, and unlikely to be done in a situation where there is a overpopulation and necessary lack of resources. Since, as i mentioned, there is no ROI)

    Hm, let me make another summary: evolution requires successful species to be egoistic (for self-interested survival) and to reproduce (which is altruistic behaviour, but is required to survive as a species). It achieves it through not giving the species choice at avoiding reproducing. However, civilization requires intellect and gives the species ability to avoid reproducing in pursuit of it’s prime egoistical motivator. Therefore extinction is inevitability, not exponential growth.

    (Tt means the universe is *littered* with ruins of alien civilizations. Though we will never discover them because we will end that way too)

    • Jeremiah says:

      Sure, alien races wouldn’t necessarily need to colonize, since as you say expansion is not necessarily a feature of intellect, but curiosity is a feature of intellect. How do you explain the lack of Van Neumann Probes?

      • blipnickels says:

        Quality control.

        I mean, it’s a major question whether we can make a single AI here on Earth that will share our values. Von Neumann Probes involved seeding the entire galaxy with intelligent replicating grey goo and hoping it never eats us.

      • Ohforfs says:

        Are going to postulate a means of satisfying curiosity about the physical world outside of our solar system that involve actually going out of the solar system, and call it a VN probe? (because the self-replicating goo is just a horror scenario for no gain and falls under my previous argument)

        For the curiosity, which i think is good counterargument, i am not sure. Yes, we probably should send some automatic (AI?) probes outside solar system (well, we already send non-AI probes…). There are some unknowns here, though:

        – what is the saturation? While galaxy colonizing civilization does not depend on the density of such civilizations in the galaxy, such probes do. It might be the case that such civilizations are rare and short lived enough that there is none close enough to Earth that would send anything automated here.

        – what is the noticeability. It might be the case that there are such probes in the solar system, it’s just that they are not noticeable for us. I base it on the assumption that they need not to be overly large and energy-intensive for their purposes. It might be the case that there are already such probes in Solar System that are escaping our relatively limited detection methods.

        The conclusion is that i don’t think it’s a given that exploratory probes would be necessarily noticed, and that grey-goo VN probes fall under my original argument (precisely that there is no reason to make them)

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        How do you explain the lack of Van Neumann Probes?

        This one always comes up, so I think it’s time to put paid to it once and for all.

        Let’s examine the reasoning behind Von Neumann Probes vis a vis the Fermi paradox. At it’s most basic, the argument goes like this:
        1. If we observe the existence of Von Neumann Probes, then at least one advanced alien civilization exists,
        2. We don’t observe the existence of Von Neumann Probes,
        3. Therefore, no advanced alien civilizations exist.

        The premises are undeniable. If we observed evidence of advanced civilizations, such as Von Neumann probes, it would be clear evidence for the existence of same (tautologically). We don’t know how to construct Von Neumann probes, therefore any probes observed would have to have been made by someone else. We also haven’t observed anything like a Von Neumann Probe. The premises are, as best we can tell, true.

        Of course, anyone with even the most basic knowledge of logic will spot that the argument is formally invalid – it is denying the antecedent.

        If you try to reverse the first premise into:
        1. If no advanced civilizations exist, we would not observe Von Neumann Probes,
        2. We do not observe Von Neumann Probes,
        3. Therefore, no advanced civilizations exists.

        You’re affirming the consequent, which is equally fallacious.

        If, on the other hand, you’re going to try:
        1. If at least one advanced civilization exists, we would observe Von Neumann Probes,

        I am going to dispute the hell out of that premise, which should be constructed as:
        1. IF Von Neumann Probes are possible AND advanced civilizations exist AND there are no other reasons why Von Neumann Probes would not work as expected, THEN we would observe Von Neumann Probes.

        The first two are known unknowns: we do not know whether Von Neumann Probes can be constructed until we either observe or make one, nor do we know whether advanced civilizations exist. The third is in the category of unknown unknowns – we won’t know whether Von Neumann Probes can behave as postulated until we either see them in action, or make and use some ourselves (which is pretty much a subset of the former).

        Given that everything about the final form of the premise is unknown, we have no way of assigning a truth value to it and any argument incorporating it must fail.

        ETA:
        Elaboration on last point, because it may not be clear: a valid (nope, it would still be fallacious, because it is possible that no alien civilization would choose to make Von Neumann Probes, even if possible) argument wrt the Fermi Paradox and involving Von Neumann Probes would look like this:
        1. IF Von Neumann Probes are possible AND advanced civilizations exist AND there are no other reasons why Von Neumann Probes would not work as expected, THEN we would observe Von Neumann Probes.
        2. Von Neumann Probes are possible,
        3. Von Neumann Probes work as expected,
        4. We do not observe alien-made Von Neumann Probes,
        5. Therefore, no advanced alien civilization exists.

        Note: the reason for “alien-made” in the 4th premise should be obvious – the only way that premises 2, 3 and 4 can be true is if we’re making and operating Von Neumann Probes ourselves.

        • Taleuntum says:

          The first half of your comment is just knocking down 2 arguments no one ever made in my opinion, but you can change my mind, if you can provide evidence. I will talk about the second half.

          There are great differences between different unknowns: I don’t know that I will eat eggs tomorrow and I also don’t know whether I will be selected as the ambassador of humanity by an alien race tomorrow, but still my not knowing is very different in the two cases.

          Similarly, everybody agrees on things like we are not 100% sure that Von Neumann Probes are possible, but that does not mean that we can’t claim that it is highly likely von Neumann probes are possible even though we haven’t been able to make them yet. And then we can make probabilistic arguments with that statement by combining it with other arguments to claim that other things are also highly likely. Introducing: Inductive reasoning.

          So, with your arguments of “we can’t know with 100% certainty that X is true until [event that hasn’t happened yet and would make X close to 100% certain]” you did successfully destroyed the position that “It is 100% certain that there are no advanced alien civilizations.”, but no one believed that position anyway.

          Also, It is a bit surprising that I have to make this argument in a rationalist space, because one of the core tenets of the movement is Bayesian reasoning, specificially that the trueness of every statement is a number between 0 and 1 and one of the views of Yudkowsky is that statements concerning the real world can’t be true with a probability of 0 and 1, because that would require infinite evidence as 0 and 1 are -inf and inf in log-odds and the difference in log-odds measures the amount of evidence needed to go from one level of certainty to the other (this comes from Bayes-rule for odds).

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            Also, It is a bit surprising that I have to make this argument in a rationalist space, because one of the core tenets of the movement is Bayesian reasoning

            Probabilistic reasoning isn’t an actual substitute for logic, you do realize that?

            The question was:

            How do you explain the lack of Van Neumann Probes?

            To which the answer is: why would you expect the absence of Von Neumann Probes to tell you anything interesting about the Fermi Paradox?

            I have outlined the possible arguments that could be used to reason about the Fermi Paradox using the observed absence of Von Neumann Probes as a premise (data point). Two of them are fallacious, one undetermined because it invokes more than one unknown. Any further arguments will have the form of extending the third argument, thus being just as undetermined. This allows me to formulate Faza’s VNP Syllogism:

            1. All arguments regarding the Fermi Paradox that involve the lack of Von Neumann Probes are either fallacious or undetermined,
            2. Argument A involves the lack of Von Neumann Probes,
            3. Therefore, argument A is either fallacious or undetermined.
            Corollary: You can’t reason about the Fermi Paradox from lack of Von Neumann Probes.

            No, Bayesian probability doesn’t help you one bit here.

            [T]hat does not mean that we can’t claim that it is highly likely von Neumann probes are possible even though we haven’t been able to make them yet

            You can also claim that there’s an invisible, undetectable unicorn sitting on my head, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to take your claims in any way seriously.

            With regards to Von Neumann Probes, my priors are against them being possible and/or practical. Based on these, I would not expect to find Von Neumann Probes. I am not finding Von Neumann Probes. The predictive power of my model is strong.

            Your priors are that Von Neumann Probes are possible and likely. We would therefore expect to be finding them all over the place.* We are not seeing any Von Neumann Probes. The predictive power of your model is weak.

            You’re doing induction wrong – rather than reasoning from specific to general, you’re reasoning from imagined to imagined.

            A proper – which doesn’t mean sensible – induction would observe that we’ve not seen any instances of sustained exponential growth to the point of exhausting available space in any of the species that currently occupy, or have in the past occupied, the Earth, nor does humanity do so, despite being freed from the usual constraints (the most prosperous countries tend to have declining population growth); therefore, we should not expect to observe this out in space.

            Or, more lightheartedly (though we’re really abusing induction here): since the only advanced civilization we know of (ours) isn’t particularly interested in making Von Neumann Probes (or even space travel in general), we can expect other civilizations to also not want to do this.

            Again, this model gives better predictions than assuming Von Neumann Probes are totally a thing.

            * This isn’t strictly true, for reasons that should be obvious by now (additional supressed premises), but we don’t need to worry about it here.

          • Taleuntum says:

            Probabilistic reasoning isn’t an actual substitute for logic, you do realize that?

            Yes, I realize that. I also realize that insults are not very effective if you don’t explain how they could possibly apply to whom you are insulting.

            Any further arguments will have the form of extending the third argument, thus being just as undetermined.

            And this is where you are wrong. So I’ve already written a comment why, but I will write it down again: You can’t just say something is unknown (or undetermined in your words) and thus every argument using it is fallacious, because every single thing (or most things, if you don’t believe Yudkowsky) in the real world is unknown. However, things are unknown in different degrees and if a statement is only a little bit “not known” you can make other causally connected statements lose their unknown-ness too.

            You can also claim that there’s an invisible, undetectable unicorn sitting on my head, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to take your claims in any way seriously.

            Yes, this is true: I did not supply you with arguments for the viability of von Neumann probes, because that wasn’t the point of my comment. The point of my comment was to show you that your “metaargument from unknown-ness” is nonsense, ie ” the only way that premises 2, 3 and 4 can be true is if we’re making and operating Von Neumann Probes ourselves.” is not coherent, just as your first statement in Faza’s VNP Syllogism is false.

            To simplify for you some more. This is a valid reasoning:

            1. A -> B (ie From A, B follows)
            2. A is not known with 100% certainty, but is highly likely.
            3. From 1 and 2, it follows that B is highly likely.

            (In our case, A is your statements 1,2,3,4 taken together(ie when all of them are true) and B is statement 5, ie that no alien civilization exists)

            And you said that: we don’t know A with 100% percent certainty, so it does not matter that we know that A->B is true, we can’t say anything at all about B!

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            Yes, I realize that. I also realize that insults are not very effective if you don’t explain how they could possibly apply to whom you are insulting.

            ‘Twas no more an insult than your surprise at “hav[ing] to make this argument in a rationalist space”. I was just making sure we’re on the same page.

            You can’t just say something is unknown (or undetermined in your words) and thus every argument using it is fallacious

            I didn’t say that. I said “fallacious OR undetermined”. We might even say “fallacious XOR undetermined”, because a known fallacious argument is necessarily determined (i.e. we know that it’s fallacious).

            However, things are unknown in different degrees and if a statement is only a little bit “not known” you can make other causally connected statements lose their unknown-ness too.

            Now we’re getting somewhere.

            The problem with the third – not fallacious, please note – form of the argument is that we have n unkowns, most of which are unknown unknowns, that is: we do not even now n, let alone how to assign probabilities.

            Mind you, we don’t really know how to assign probabilities to the known unknowns either. We know exactly one spacefaring (though not starfaring, unless you count the Voyagers) civilization exists – ours. We know we don’t know whether there’s some special sauce that made it possible for us to evolve, but is unique to just the Earth – which is why the Fermi Paradox is a paradox.

            We most certainly don’t know how to assign probabilities to the possibility of Von Neumann Probes and to their expected behaviour (more on that in a second). We know we don’t know how to build one at present, and I personally am sceptical it is possible at all, in any meaningful sense. We know of one physical phenomenon that fits the bill – life – but that doesn’t suit us particularly well. Life has a tendency to evolve over long timescales, for one, so we’re faced with the possibility that our probes quickly cease performing any useful function, other than self-sustaining and reproducing, given the timescales we’re talking about.

            Then there’s the fact that we don’t really have any idea of what travel over interstellar distances involves, because we’ve never done it. The VNP hypothesis assumes implicitly that the probes will be able to cross interstellar distances functionally unscathed and able to perform their primary functions when they arrive at their destinations. Given the problems we have sending probes to solar system bodies, despite having done it for decades and knowing what to expect, I believe this to be a wildly optimistic assumption. Your mileage may vary, and your guess is as good as mine – which is the entire point. Incidentally, we can only determine if we were successful when the probe reaches its destination and reports back. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what timescales that involves. This naturally puts a bit of a damper on iterative design and you pretty much have to get it right the first time.

            The point of my comment was to show you that your “metaargument from unknown-ness” is nonsense, ie ” the only way that premises 2, 3 and 4 can be true is if we’re making and operating Von Neumann Probes ourselves.” is not coherent, just as your first statement in Faza’s VNP Syllogism is false.

            EDIT: My bad. I did miss “know” in the original post, which added to the confusion. I could try to hide behind the fact that in the context of an argument a premise is true iff we know it to be true, but I really should have said it outright. Otherwise, the following still stands.

            It seems my mistake was in assuming that we’re evaluating the VNP hypothesis based on the same claims made about VNP – which would seem natural, given that we’re discussing them in the context of the Fermi Paradox. Permit me to quote the wiki:

            In 1981, Frank Tipler put forth an argument that extraterrestrial intelligences do not exist, based on the absence of von Neumann probes. Given even a moderate rate of replication and the history of the galaxy, such probes should already be common throughout space and thus, we should have already encountered them.

            A response came from Carl Sagan and William Newman. Now known as Sagan’s Response, it pointed out that in fact Tipler had underestimated the rate of replication, and that von Neumann probes should have already started to consume most of the mass in the galaxy.

            These two claims form the basis for premise 3: Von Neumann Probes work as expected (the expectation being that they would be all over the place by now).

            We haven’t observed any Von Neumann Probes. This means one of three things:
            1. Nobody’s sending Von Neumann Probes, or
            2. Von Neumann Probes don’t work as expected (that is: do not multiply at the rates proposed by Tipler or Sagan/Newman), or
            3. Von Neumann Probes are not possible.

            In this context, it should be clear that if any alien civilization were to deploy Von Neumann Probes, we would observe them. We do not. If we have not observed Von Neumann Probes coming from a different civilization, the only way we can know that Von Neumann Probes are possible and that they work as expected is if we have made, deployed and observed them ourselves.

            I hope we’re now clear on this.

            1. A -> B (ie From A, B follows)
            2. A is not known with 100% certainty, but is highly likely.
            3. From 1 and 2, it follows that B is highly likely.

            This is certainly valid for a probabilistic value of valid, but it is not necessarily sound. The point in dispute is premise 2. It cannot be assumed to be true, but must be demonstrated.

            In terms of pure induction, I rate the existence of extraterrestrial spacefaring civilizations as much more probable (we exist, so we know that such a civilization is at least possible) than Von Neumann Probes that do not exist and hence we know nothing about what an actual Von Neumann Probe is like (no, theoretical models are no substitute; models are only as good as how they compare to reality and you need a reality to make the comparison).

            And you said that: we don’t know A with 100% percent certainty, so it does not matter that we know that A->B is true, we can’t say anything at all about B!

            But we’re not talking about B, we’re talking about C. Or D even.

            The only certainty we’re dealing with here is that we have not observed any Von Neumann Probes. There could be any number of possible reasons for this, such as:
            1. Von Neumann Probes aren’t possible,
            2. Even if Von Neumann Probes are possible, nobody capable of building one would be stupid enough to do so (per Sagan/Newman),
            3. Even if Von Neumann Probes are possible and someone did send them, their actual behaviour in the wild is very different from what we expect and this is the reason why we haven’t observed them,
            4. Even if Von Neumann Probes are possible and someone did send them and they behave exactly as we expect, they’ve only been launched recently and haven’t progressed far enough for us to spot them,
            5. There’s nobody to send Von Neumann Probes, because we’re alone in the galaxy.

            To go from “we’re not seeing any VNPs” to “there’s nobody else out there” is to dismiss every other possible explanation for what we’re observing – as classic an example of affirming the consequent as ever there was.

            It is certainly possible that the observed lack of VNPs is due to there being nobody to send them, but we have no way of telling, because we have no way of discarding the alternative explanations. Any probabilities you care to assign to them will be numbers pulled out of your… hat, because we’ve not actually observed any instance of an actual Von Neumann Probe.

            The first hypothesis (VNPs are impossible) at least has the advantage of parsimony, because we don’t have to assume anything else about the universe for it to give good predictions.

          • Taleuntum says:

            ‘Twas no more an insult than your surprise at “hav[ing] to make this argument in a rationalist space”. I was just making sure we’re on the same page.

            Sometimes things seem less offensive in my head than on paper. It is a common fault of mine. I’m sorry.

            The problem with the third – not fallacious, please note – form of the argument is that we have n unkowns, most of which are unknown unknowns, that is: we do not even now n, let alone how to assign probabilities.

            I assume the n unknowns are the n premises? If yes, then I agree it is very hard to assign explicitly probabilities to things (though there are some people who are surprisingly great at that, but that is a story for an other time). However, you and I do that all the time implicitly: eg. we categorize things as impossible, almost impossible, highly unlikely, unlikely, 50-50, likely, highly likely, almost certain, certain. What are these words if not words referring to ranges of probabilities? Furthermore, we also can argue using these words: eg. I can say that: “If I will have eggs for breakfeast tomorrow, then I should go to the shop to buy eggs.”. And as I said I often eat eggs, but not always. Now, don’t you agree that I made a valid argument for the statement: “I should go to the shop.”? (If our common implicit assumption is that “It is highly likely that I will eat eggs tomorrow”) Even though, you can’t give an explicit probability to “I will have eggs tomorrow”, you feel its approximate likeliness in your bones. Just as with the VNPs: Yeah, I can’t give you an exact number, but based on my knowledge about the world, mechanisms, rate of technological progress, abilities of current AI, I think that it is highly likely that they are possible. It is, of course, completely okay if you disagree with me on this, I don’t have a problem with it. Consequently, I don’t want to convince you to my view that probes are highly likely. The thing I want to convince you about is that when someone says something like: “Based on the lack of von Neuman probes, we can say that there are probably no alien civilizations”. They don’t make an invalid argument for the reason that it is not certain that VNPs are possible (which is an implicit assumption of his). Note: I don’t even think that it is a good argument, because of irrelevant reasons to our conversation, but it is not invalid for the reason that there are unknown assumptions.

            The argument might be invalid for you, because you do not believe one of its assumptions are highly likely, but that does not make it invalid for others. The above argument is basically a reminder to every reader that they should add their implicitly estimated probability of the viability of VNPs (muliplied by the other implicit premises) to their estimated probability of “no other alien civilizations”. This is not an invalid argument. It might be weak, but not invalid.

            This is certainly valid for a probabilistic value of valid, but it is not necessarily sound. The point in dispute is premise 2. It cannot be assumed to be true, but must be demonstrated.

            So, the goal of my first comment was to convince you that the outlined reasoning is valid. Now it seems that we reached an agreement on this, but maybe we disagree on what you’ve said in your first comment, but I’m not sure arguing about that is productive. One minor point: It is not just “valid for a probabilistic value of valid” whatever you meant with that phrase. The outlined reasoning is unquestionably valid, as valid as anything can be, as valid as 1+1=2, in fact I can even prove it for you for any sensible definition of highly likely:

            p(B)=p(B intersect A)+p(B intersect not A)>p(B intersect A)=p(B|A)*p(A) and p(B|A) is 1, so P(B)>p(A).

            EDIT: My bad. I did miss “know” in the original post, which added to the confusion. I could try to hide behind the fact that in the context of an argument a premise is true iff we know it to be true, but I really should have said it outright. Otherwise, the following still stands.

            I don’t see what “know” you are talking about.

            Later in your post you argue about the viability of VNPs and why those famous people’s argument is weak, sometimes I agree with you, sometimes less so, but I don’t want to challenge you on that, the reason for my comments was to challenge your metaargument, ie. the argument against other argument’s validness.

      • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

        Unless faster-than-light travel (or at least communication) is invented, interstellar travel would be more or less useless to those left behind. What would be the point in sending away a robot to explore if we never hear back from it?

        • Ohforfs says:

          When trying to argue about it two comments ago i assumed automated probe sent to nearby solar system is not exceedingly costly and is able to provide scientific insights, both potential theoretical insights from travelling through interstellar space at near c velocities and observational data gathered in another solar system that would otherwise be unavailable from interstellar distances.

          Btw, from my understanding, impossibility of FTL communication and travel is one and the same from the scientific point of view.

          • woah77 says:

            This is correct. This subsection of Atomic Rockets will explain it far better than I ever could. FTL and Causality

          • acymetric says:

            If we get away from Von Neumann probes and just talk about probes generally, I agree with this. The issue is that it doesn’t necessarily raise questions about the Fermi Paradox if we’re just talking about regular probes. Space is big (which is why the Fermi Parodox suggests there should be alien life even for very low values of various parameters), so even if there is alien life out there they may not be “nearby” (in space or time). Not to mention what others have brought up in that there very well could be (non-replicating) probes in or around the solar system.

            I remember (probably here, or while I was doing a dive on the Fermi Paradox as a result of a conversation here) seeing something that inferred how close we should expect the nearest civilization to be based on various values plugged into the Fermi Paradox but I can’t remember what kind of results it gave. If I can find it again I’ll link it here so people with a better understanding of the Fermi terms can play with it.

        • acymetric says:

          One additional point against Von Neumann probes specifically…curiosity about the rest of the universe does not necessarily lead to a desire to convert the rest of the universe into probes. I wouldn’t expect an advanced civilization to create a bunch of probes that will gradually convert all matter in the universe into probes (including the launching civilization) any more than I would expect us to go cut down every tree in the Amazon so we can count/examine the rings.

          Curiosity calls for a lighter touch. In the hypothetical civilization where they have figured out how to make them, I would expect the civilization to be opposed to using them. If some rogue scientist/nation decides to launch one anyway I would guess a civilization that advanced would have the capability to destroy it before it replicated itself to a point beyond control.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            I can’t help but be reminded of Star Control II, where culling another civilization’s deployment of Von Neumann Probes (to be fair, it was a misunderstanding and they were really sorry about the whole affair) was a significant plot point.

            So, the lack of VNPs may be due to the fact that they’ve all been rounded up and dismantled under the Galactic Environmental Preservation Act.

          • acymetric says:

            I am heavily tempted to try and obtain a copy of that game now, I had never heard of it before.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            Here it is on GOG.com.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      A few billions of years ago, the universe looked very different. There were superclusters, but they were dark, boring places, filled with quindecillions of kilograms of miscellaneous hadrons, signifying little.

      Fortunately for our story, even that little was enough. The variance in density was just enough to create irregularities – knots of material that, once formed, inexorably gathered their surroundings into themselves. It took a long time, but time was immaterial to this material. The knots drifted together, until one of them happened upon an improbable trick. This knot was able to make a copy of itself. It only had to happen once. A septillion kilograms became copies of this knot, in less time than the first knot had originally formed.

      Once that happened, the majestic supercluster experienced a rapid transformation. In an even shorter span of time, the knot evolved an even weirder feature, the ability to guide its own replication. To neighboring superclusters, it would have appeared as nothing one eon, and an incomprehensible explosion the next, as the supercluster collapsed into tendrils of dark knotty order, and then a fleet of shining swirls. A tredecillion kilograms of inchoate drift pushed into hundreds of billions of spheres, shining with the heat of the ordeal.

      And still the “knot” spread, jumping to its supercluster neighbor. Then another, and still another. What was a dark universe was almost completely replaced by a vast space of swirling, shining pools, guarded by even brighter spinning balls at its periphery, by the time the knot finally expended itself.

      If that weren’t unbelievable enough, more phenomena followed in the knot’s wake. For the one-in-a-septillion event that created the first knot, happened again. Another compound – on the fringe of a cooled sphere circling a yellow sphere, itself swirling about another – achieved self-replication. It took a mere one billion trips around its local star before it, too, evolved the ability to control itself, and began its own transformation of the matter around it.

      Peculiarly, at the dawn of its self-mastery, believing it was old, yet so young to the system around it, it grew to contemplate the possibility that another compound like it could arise, spread, and dominate the universe around it. It would be only several hundred more trips around its yellow-hot ball before it recognized that that had already happened.

    • pjs says:

      Imagine we develop technology that could seed another star system. Presumably it’s a huge project, and we could do if it all pulled together as a species and made great sacrifices, BUT 1000 years of progress later (or less or more, doesn’t matter if it’s 100000 years), it’s perhaps something that a decent nation state could do itself, and after yet later years of progress later one man can do from his garage. Depending on how technology progresses and absence of complete catastrophe in that time.
      What you want is not that a species will do it when it first becomes viable and ROI is possibly governing, but that no-one or sect will/can do it for whatever idiosyncractic reason a hundred thousand of years after the technology first becomes available in its most expensive form. Because (handwaving and oversimplifying) it only takes once.

      That is, thinking about species-level economics and imperatives could be misleading. It probably is wrong if we think about humanity specifically, unless we wipe ourselves out shortly. If a million years from now, any small group of humans could do this by themselves, is there any doubt that (unless humanity has changed beyond recognition) that someone WILL do so? And with no regard to ROI.

      Objection to my objection: what if initially gaining the ability to expand as a species is for some reason always a near-immediate precursor to technological stagnation or complete destruction? Not “often” but “always”. This seems contrived.

    • John Schilling says:

      There is no return on investment due to costs and lightspeed lag.

      At least one Nobel-prize-winning economist disagrees with you on that.

      But the phrase “return on investment” is misleading here, as it implies the gains must literally return to their geographic origin. Most historic migration of most terrestrial species, including humanity, is for the benefit of the migrants rather than those who stayed behind. The assumption that all alien species will refrain from interstellar expansion because all extraterrestrial wealth is locked down by the equivalent capitalists whose only goal is to best fill the money-bins in their basement, that this pattern of behavior which is atypical among historic humanity will be absolutely universal among aliens, is implausible. But if you’re going to explain the Fermi paradox that way, you need it to be universal.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Most historic migration of most terrestrial species, including humanity, is for the benefit of the migrants rather than those who stayed behind.

        I don’t know, those who stay behind get the land, the home, and the purchasing price of the materials purchased for migration.

        To draw a sick parallel, there was a benefit to the remaining Christians when the Jews and Muslims were forcefully expelled from European countries.

        • Lambert says:

          Which is why none of those Europeans ever emigrated en-masse to America/Oceania, or anything.

          When you’re ethnically cleansing a place, you get the suff the emigrants got when you chased them off with guns, but when they peacefully emigrate, they get to sell anything they don’t want to bring with them. (e.g. said land, home)

        • John Schilling says:

          I don’t know, those who stay behind get the land, the home, and the purchasing price of the materials purchased for migration.

          As Lambert says, when this is done peacefully the migrants sell their land/home/etc for $X and use that to buy $X worth of migration stuff, which they take with them. So the stay-behinds gain $X in land/homes/etc but have to cough up $X in other stuff for it, net gain of maybe $0.2X assuming reasonably efficient markets.

          The first wave of migrants trade $X worth of land and home for $0.8X worth of supplies with which to build a new home on nigh-infinite free land. The deal gets slightly worse for each new wave until equilibrium is reached. Most of the benefit goes to the migrants.

  19. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Thread for discussing place names that conjure inaccurate mental images.
    Foggy Bottom: I imagine white men in suits whose butts are shrouded by a perpetual fog, perhaps because the terrain is The Hound of the Baskervilles type moorland.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Hell, Michigan: Detroit, but with jets of flame erupting from the ground.

      • S_J says:

        In comparison, Paradise, Michigan.

        By that name, it ought to be replete with angelic choirs; it ought to be a restful place with no disease, turmoil, or strife.

        Failing that, the climate should be comparable to a beautiful tropical island.

        (I’ve driven through Paradise a few times. It’s a nice little town, but it’s under snow for several months of the year. So it fails the tropical island test. And I never saw any angelic choirs… )

      • acymetric says:

        So, Detroit.

    • mdet says:

      Greenland & Iceland are probably the most famous examples

    • bullseye says:

      Turkey

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        “What do you mean, the nation of Turkey doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving! Is it because the citizens are actual turkeys, who don’t want to be eaten?”

    • Fitzroy says:

      The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea;
      The People’s Republic of China;
      The Democratic Republic of Congo;
      The Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

      As a general rule, any country which feels compelled to announce that it is Democratic, the People’s, or a Republic is none of the above.

      • acymetric says:

        What about a country that has to announce it is “United”?

        I kid. Sorta.

        • Fitzroy says:

          You’re not wrong. The United Kingdom is anything but these days and the United States of America doesn’t seem much better.

          Is the United States of Mexico an exception to that, though?

          • EchoChaos says:

            From my understanding, no.

            Mexico has some pretty severe internal divisions between El Norte and the rest of Mexico.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Have any of them declared themselves Rey en El Norte yet?

            (And if so, are they trying to get the wall built themselves?)

    • ilikekittycat says:

      “Phoenix.”

      • Elementaldex says:

        Burning fire, lots of flights. Sounds pretty appropriate.

      • John Schilling says:

        Flaming hot, and rose from the ashes of a previous city. What more do you want for “Phoenix”?

        ETA: Semi-ninja’d by Elementaldex

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      The names of Chicago suburbs, in general, lead you to expect a good deal more Heights, Ridges, Hills, and Highlands than are actually present.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      West, Texas is in the eastern half of Texas.

      Iceland does indeed have enough ice to qualify, just as Ireland has enough… angry people. Greenland breaks this trend.

      Nantucket has no apparent men of prodigious proportions.

    • Plumber says:

      @Le Maistre Chat says:

      “Thread for discussing place names that conjure inaccurate mental images…”

      Downtown Oakland, California isn’t a forest, and doesn’t look like Lothlorien.

      As mentioned elsewhere in this Open Thread: Paradise, California burned down.

      • Gray Ice says:

        @ Plumber:
        This makes me wonder, have any paving companies put up a parking lot since that happened?

    • noyann says:

      If you speak the languages:
      Bangkok and Düsseldorf are a “village”.
      The Goyder Line sounds line mumblesomethingblah iodine deficiency.

  20. Aftagley says:

    Can anyone recommend any good resources for crossing over from being a beginner coder to a intermediate coder?

    My current status is that I can pretty much answer any discrete question or problem anyone comes to me with. I’m the “that guy” of the office where whenever anyone has a task that would otherwise be incredibly repetitive or time consuming, they come to me and I generally find a way to automate it. As an example – the last big project I did, a team had been storing critical data in a gmail inbox for 5 years and not bothering to keep any kind of analytics. I found a way to parse through around 14000 emails to get that data and export it to excel.

    The thing is, I might be getting results, but I still feel like a novice when doing these kinds of tasks. I’m not writing beautiful, object oriented code; I’m basically hacking together a pastiche of guesswork and other people’s work I stole off of Stack Overflow.

    I’d like to get better, but I’m not sure what a next step would be – I’ve tried a couple of the online “learn coding” apps, but they all seem aimed at a complete novice, which isn’t really where I’m at. Anyone have any good suggestions?

    • cassander says:

      I find I learn the most from building things that have a definite purpose. If you lack a new purpose, try re-building something from scratch that you slapped together out of multiple different tools in a way that’s better.

    • uau says:

      Try to work on a larger existing codebase that has some of the qualities you want to be able to create yourself (likely some opensource project). Try to add some not-completely-trivial feature, or try to track down bugs (understanding how the code is supposed to work, and why it doesn’t).

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Learn data structures – linked lists, binary trees, sparse matrices, hashtables – well enough to be able to write one from scratch, even though your language of choice provides one, and understand why one will perform certain operations better than another. You’ll need to know performance tradeoffs of basic data structures like these in order to analyze performance problems in more complicated code in any sort of reasonable time.

      Learn LISP and Prolog well enough to understand why functional languages are studied. Then, if you want, set them aside.

      The above is to force yourself to get the necessary theory under your belt. With that done, you can shoulder more practical tasks. What you do next will depend on what sort of intermediate projects you’d like to specialize in. Some examples:

      Get a copy of MySQL, build a database in it, and then write a program that puts data in it and pulls it back out. Then set up a web server (Apache and nginx are the top ones) and run them. Then write web page code that does the same database operations that your program did.

      Get a game development kit such as Pygame or one of the HTML5 engines, and write a game complex enough that you would enjoy it.

      Choose a language in common use, and write various programs that will make your life easier. Consider writing apps that will run on your phone. Write a few completely by hand first, and then write them in an IDE.

    • johan_larson says:

      Have you read a complete book about whatever language you are working with? If not, start with that. And if it has exercises, do a few. For Java, Effective Java by Joshua Bloch is a good one for people who already know the basics.

      You should also learn something about datastructures and fundamental algorithms, the heart of computer science. There are many books that teach this material, using several different languages. Here is one in Java.

      You might also try reading these more general books. Then try to apply their advice to your work.

      The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master by Andrew Hunt
      Code Complete by Steve McConnell
      Working Effectively with Legacy Code by Michael Feathers
      Building Maintainable Software by Joost Visser

      Digging deeper, you should read something about software testing, but I’m not sure what to recommend. For now, let me just ask this question. Do you write any tests for your code at all?

    • broblawsky says:

      Learn Python The Hard Way is good from a data science perspective.

    • matthewravery says:

      What language are you learning? Why are you learning it? What type of tasks do you want to accomplish? It’s hard to recommend resources without knowing what your goals are. I have recommendations for R but not Python, for example.

      cassander’s suggestion is a good one: Having a reason for doing something or a thing you’re building is immensely helpful, even if you have to invent the project yourself.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      I’m not writing beautiful, object oriented code

      *shudders* Those two aren’t compatible. OOP is not for application code, at least not in 99% of non-school situations. It’s brilliant for libraries and auxiliary stuff, but when it comes to designing the business logic of your app, you want functional code, not object oriented.

      That’s actually a fallacy that comes from (extremely) naive examples in OOP programming. You have a class Car, with a subclass Truck, with an instance that’s your car. That’s good for understanding how classes work, but this never ever ever ever happens in production code. Ever. Not even close. And some of the worst spaghetti code possible happens by trying to force it.

      As for your question, it looks like you’re already intermediate and want to move up. That’s a lot harder, since I haven’t seen any way to do this other than just be in the industry for 10+ years. I can think of a few things that might help:
      – mentoring – be around people that know their shit
      – work on interesting problems, ideally on a big system with a lot of data used by a lot of people.
      – learn Lisp, or whatever its modern equivalent is.

      Since only the third is a practical suggestion: I did that some 10 years ago. Might have been a coincidence, but that’s the point where I think I could have called myself a senior dev. I didn’t write much production code in it – I have a now defunct app and some libraries written in Clojure (which I recommend btw), but the way it forced me to think about code as data is something that will stay with me forever. There’s a bunch of concepts you don’t really find anywhere else. And I have a sneaking suspicion that all the big guys had a functional programming phase at some point.

      • DinoNerd says:

        I’m not writing beautiful, object oriented code

        *shudders* Those two aren’t compatible.

        +1 I inherited a piece-of-crap command line tool written in C++ that other people (not just me) refer to as an “unmaintainable horror” and worse. The way it uses classes mostly detracts from maintainability.

        I rewrote half of it from scratch last year – and now all its most important functions are handled by code that people can understand, and enhance. I completely changed languages in the process, to avoid managerial temptation to insist I reuse old code. The replacement does a lot that the old code couldn’t handle, and colleagues actually send me pull requests now instead of insisting that I do everything personally.

        Moving the rest of its functions out of the old code remains on my “to do” list for this year. Management disagrees – they have other priorities – but every bug I fix in it will probably somehow result in nuking more of that pustulent mess. (I’ll keep most of it in C++, because of the need to move gradually.)

        I don’t know how much of the disaster was caused by the incompetence of the original developer, or the complete lack of documentation of what the classes actually do, rather than simply by using classes where they weren’t optimal. But it’ll be my go to example of bad OO code for a long time.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I do a huge chunk of my coding in C#. Using classes and following good OO principles is immensely helpful in what I do.

          I also do a huge chunk of my coding in SQL stored procedures. Following OO principles there is obviously not possible, nor would I want to switch to something like Java (which could be possible, depending on the DB).

          It’s a huge mistake to dismiss OO principles as a general case. You can right bad OO code, you can write bad procedural code, you can write bad code in pre-structural languages like COBOL.

          You can also write good code in all of these paradigms.

          • DinoNerd says:

            True. I should have quoted a bit more of what Radu Floricica said above, where he suggests it’s overused in application code.

            I don’t think object orientation was very suitable to the particular program I inherited, and I’m sure it was used within that program in areas where it was just plain silly. And there’s a place in hell for people who abuse auto the way this author did.

            For other purposes, it’s the best thing since sliced bread, though I’d personally prefer to use almost any other OO language rather than C++. And in my experience – which is of course limited – most of those places which I’ve personally encountered have been in operating systems.

            The real trick is to use the right tool for the job, and use it well.

            I suspect if your described your projects, or showed me your code, I’d agree you were using the right tool – and if I showed you the program I inherited, you’d tend to wonder aloud what moron wrote it.

      • temp679 says:

        OOP is not for application code, at least not in 99% of non-school situations.

        Strongly disagree on this as a general principle. Yes, OO languages give you more ways to shoot yourself in the foot. And more expressive languages give you even more tools you can use wrongly (e.g., C++ lets you create a mess in ways that Java won’t allow you to consider).
        However, used properly (and it takes a lot of training to achieve this) OOP gives you tools to make your app scalable, maintainable, and readable by future poor souls (including your future self) who will be working on the same project.
        In a way there is a progression of complexity in software design: from machine instructions, to functions, to data structures and algorithms, to encapsulation/inheritance/polymorphism, to design patterns. The only legitimate reason you might want to design things on a lower level is getting rid of complexity due to speed or hardware constraints.

        TL;DR: OP, please don’t dismiss OOP before you get a consensus among people you trust telling you it is a good idea.

    • Viliam says:

      You didn’t mention the programming language you use. You could have received more specific advice.

      I’m not writing beautiful, object oriented code

      Object-oriented code is just one of multiple choices; although, if that’s the one you choose, it’s worth learning to do it properly. But there are other things that make code nice:

      * Use names — of variables, constants, functions, classes, etc. — that express well what given part of code means. It is difficult to read code where the variables are just called “a”, “b”, “c”. And when it’s difficult to read, it is also difficult to find bugs, or to add more functionality later. On the other hand, don’t make the names unnecessarily long. It helps if you know the standard words expressing the concept you are using. For example, “numberOfCustomers” is better than “n”, but also better than “howManyPeopleBuyThingsInOurShop”.

      * Split the code into smaller parts. (How small exactly, that depends on language.) If a function has hundred lines, or a class has hundred methods or hundred variables, it probably can — and should — be split into multiple parts. And each part should be properly named.

      * Documentation. The rule of thumb is that the name of the function says WHAT, the code says HOW, and the documentation says WHY. Don’t write retarded documentation such as: “Function ‘customer.getName’ returns the name of the customer”. On the other hand, it may be worth mentioning whether the customer’s “name” is actually the surname, the first name followed by the surname, or perhaps the surname followed by the first name, or any of the above.

      You can take some short code you already wrote, try to improve it given these guidelines, and share it here to get feedback what others would have done differently.

      In addition to this, you should get familiar with the following:

      * Algorithms and data structures. (What is a “linked list”, what is a “hash map”, and why would anyone want to use it. What is the difference between “quick sort” and “bubble sort”.)

      * Computational complexity. Not too much detail, just knowing what words like “quadratic” and “exponential” mean with regards to time or memory, and being able to tell which one applies to your program.

      * Design patterns; best practices.

      * Automatic testing. Also, use programs that analyze your code and show you the problems, and then fix them.

      For theoretical education, you might want to try some problem-solving websites, such as Project Euler.

  21. John Schilling says:

    On the China vs. Basketball front, this is now apparently a thing. I was skeptical of the first reports on net-of-a-million-lies grounds, but Reuters usually doesn’t screw up brute facts like this. ESPN is implicitly endorsing the nine, er, ten-dash line, and this is no longer plausibly just an issue of China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong.

    And, WTF? Why would anyone think this is a good idea? It’s hard to see this as any sort of accident; that graphic doesn’t exist outside of China unless you deliberately commission it, or you get it from the Chinese, or you find it in a folder labeled “Really Controversial Chinese Geopolitical Stuff”. But after the backlash they got over the Hong Kong bit, are the NBA and their ESPN overlords(*) really going to want to double down on endorsing Chinese hegemony well beyond China’s generally accepted borders? Is even Beijing foolish enough to think now is the time for this? Yes, they have the power, but they don’t securely have the power, not when Congress is expressing bipartisan discontent. I’d have expected them to wait until the present furor dies down before ramping up their game like this.

    * Or did I get that backwards?

    • acymetric says:

      * Or did I get that backwards?

      ESPN could probably reasonably be described as the overlords of a lot of college athletics, but in the case of the NBA/ESPN relationship I would say they are probably solidly partners.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Warning, CW:
      ESPN is Disney. Disney employs bean counters who do risk analysis of possible boycotts, and they found that getting boycotted by the Chinese Communist Party is a big risk and getting boycotted by conservatives domestically is a very small risk, or even a net gain.
      Disney’s willingness to use a map claiming Chinese rule of Arunachal Pradesh indicates that a billion Indians don’t buy enough Disney products to make them care about offending India.

      Now I’m feeling like my analysis is less CW and more cyberpunk. When is Japan going to send in ninja with cybernetic implants because they feel threatened by China’s growing power?

      • Aftagley says:

        boycotted by the Chinese Communist Party is a big risk and getting boycotted by conservatives domestically is a very small risk, or even a net gain.

        AFAIK support/condemnation for China doesn’t map onto Liberal/Conservative domestically. I don’t know how it trends, or how it will shake out, but for right now at least this issue crosses party lines.

        I mean, just take this board for example – I’m pretty sure China is literally the only issue I’ve ever totally agreed with Echo Chaos about.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I’m not disagreeing with you. Disney has completely amoral positions on multiple political issues or axes. They see Chinese citizens as a huge revenue source and so will take positions to milk that cash cow. When American citizens are in tribal conflict, they see the progressives as the bigger cash cow. There could be any number of other positions the chief executives have decided to take based on what the bean counters tell them.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I’m pretty sure China is literally the only issue I’ve ever totally agreed with Echo Chaos about.

          Hoorah!

          I think the reason for this is that China isn’t leftist enough anymore for lefties to support it, but it isn’t really right-wing either.

          • acymetric says:

            Was support for China ever really a leftist position? I mean, maybe super far left (as in legitimate full-on communists/Marxists, not the quasi-socialism/democratic-socialism that has gained some popularity recently) back when they might have thought China was going to be a “real communist country” or whatever but that was never a particularly large or empowered group here.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @acymetric: they were large enough that John Lennon wrote a song lyric criticizing support for Chairman Mao, then regretfully said “I never should have put in that line about Chairman Mao.”
            (Compare the reaction to “the Beatles are bigger than Jesus.”)

          • Laukhi says:

            @acymetric:
            Anecdotally, I’ve met more than a few liberal-by-default types with a pretty positive view of Mao. Probably they wouldn’t have had that view if they actually knew what he did, but people who don’t care too much about politics while also expressing tribal affiliation (normal people) often adopt whatever attitude seems to be the default in their social circle.

            I haven’t met anyone willing to defend Xi, though (in America).

          • Was support for China ever really a leftist position?

            Support may be a little strong, but my impression is that a lot of people on the left had a generally positive view of Maoist China. And not limited to the left. When Mao died, the Economist‘s obituary credited him with ending famine in China.

    • The Nybbler says:

      China’s upset, this is when they want to appease them the _most_. What’s the US going to do about it? Nothing, the First Amendment protects them from government backlash and their enormous Western propaganda machine as well as the fickle nature of the public protect them from non-government backlash.

      Although they could have had the courtesy to at least put a trollface icon on Taiwan.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        I dunno. If they annoy the government enough, copyright might mysteriously get reduced to the Berne Convention minimum.

    • Laukhi says:

      People seem to make a lot of noise about these things, but nothing material has really happened as a clear response, I think. So, maybe the CPC is willing to try their luck on this? Maybe I underestimate the importance of ESPN, but if this leads to anything at all it probably won’t be too harsh and if it doesn’t then it’s a clear signal to them that the CPC can push a bit further.

      Also, possibly the CPC is factionalist enough that this was done for domestic political reasons. If this is as significant as you seem to imply, then maybe it’s a good way for Xi to placate the nationalists in the CPC.

      Still, I’m a little doubtful that the CPC did anything at all rather than it being an independent action by ESPN, for the reasons you cite.

      (I’ll seriously consider forgiving ESPN if they put a star on Taipei in the future, though.)

    • MorningGaul says:

      And, WTF? Why would anyone think this is a good idea?

      For the same reason most of processed food is now hallal in western europe: when you got a population that will never consume (either because their religion tells them not to, or because the party blocked the diffusion in your country) products that lack a certain component (either religious rules or a very generous map), while the general population don’t really care about it, you have no reason not to cave in to the minority, because it’s profit at cost.

      • MorningGaul says:

        I meant profit at *no* cost, obviously.

      • John Schilling says:

        But it’s not profit at zero cost. It’s profit at small cost, or risk, yes. But the cost and risk would be smaller still after one more news cycle, and news cycles are measured in weeks. So why now?

    • An Fírinne says:

      >Chinese hegemony well beyond China’s generally accepted borders?

      The kind of soft power influence that China has is not unique to China. All countries whether Israel (especially Israel) or America do the kind of thing China is doing. Its just latent Sinophobia motivating the current outrage.

      • zqed says:

        Its just latent Sinophobia motivating the current outrage.

        Uncharitable. Can you think of other relevant differences between the USA and China (in e.g. human rights records, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, etc.) that might cause people to treat alleged interference by the two countries differently?

        All countries whether Israel (especially Israel) or America do the kind of thing China is doing.

        I doubt that. Even Russia did not retaliate against Panarin, much less the NHL. But feel free to link to players who had their careers on the line for criticizing US domestic or foreign policy in the last 20 years.

        • An Fírinne says:

          >Uncharitable. Can you think of other relevant differences between the USA and China (in e.g. human rights records, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, etc.) that might cause people to treat alleged interference by the two countries differently?

          If people said all kinds of corporate soft power influence like what China has exhibited was bad and criticised all instances then that would fine. The Sinophobia is the blind eye being turned when non-China actors do it such as Israel, with its abysmal human rights record and the United States with its fellow abysmal human rights record.

      • John Schilling says:

        All countries whether Israel (especially Israel) or America do the kind of thing China is doing.

        The United States of America does not draw lines on maps enclosing international waters many hundreds of miles from shore and say “This is our sovereign territory; you may pass only by our permission”.

        The United States of America does not point to de facto independent nation-states and say “This is our sovereign territory; if the people who live there do not accept our dominion, we’re eventually going to invade and conquer them”.

        And the United States does not deny US market access to foreign commercial entities on the basis that some of their employees once publicly disputed US geopolitical claims.

        These are real differences between the US and China, between just about everybody else in the world and China, and pointing that out is not “sinophobia”

        The bit where you’re going to point to things the US has done that are vaguely and superficially similar to the things that China has done and say “See, the US and China are the same, just like I said”, is not going to be worth engaging, but you’re going to do it anyway so have at it.

        • An Fírinne says:

          >The United States of America does not draw lines on maps enclosing international waters many hundreds of miles from shore and say “This is our sovereign territory; you may pass only by our permission”.

          I have no idea what this has to do with anything I said. I clarified corporate soft power.

          >The United States of America does not point to de facto independent nation-states and say “This is our sovereign territory; if the people who live there do not accept our dominion, we’re eventually going to invade and conquer them”.

          China is saying this to who exactly? Taiwan is not a nation state. Its to China what the Confederacy was the Union.

          Although you are right, the USA does not do this, what they do is bomb their children with drones.

          >And the United States does not deny US market access to foreign commercial entities on the basis that some of their employees once publicly disputed US geopolitical claims.

          Not as of yet, although their is that BDS bill Macro Rubio and others are pushing and they do threaten governments (Ukraine for instance) which is much much worse. You don’t care about this though because you worship the state. Regardless your whole argument seems to be “China does it more therefore I don’t care if the US does it so I’m going to carry on ignoring it.”

          >he bit where you’re going to point to things the US has done that are vaguely and superficially similar to the things that China has done and say “See, the US and China are the same, just like I said”, is not going to be worth engaging, but you’re going to do it anyway so have at it.

          The “not worth replying to” slogan is always the last shriek of those without arguments when they see their whole Pentagon-fed worldview crumbling around them.

          • sfoil says:

            China is saying this to who exactly? Taiwan is not a nation state. Its to China what the Confederacy was the Union.

            Although you are right, the USA does not do this, what they do is bomb their children with drones.

            Taiwan is more similar to the Confederate settlements in Brazil. No one would have thought it reasonable for the United States to claim this territory in the 20th century, and they did not. Also, fighting bush wars is not the same thing as staking claims to territory.

            The anti-BDS bills are obscene, and I hope/think that in the long run they seriously damage the relationship between the US and the individuals and organizations pushing them. At any rate, they have not been conclusively established as legitimate in the US.

            As John Schilling said, the US and China have some similarities, but they are not the same. Perhaps you prefer China and its way of doing business to the US, but this doesn’t require you to endorse everything they do.

          • An Fírinne says:

            @sfoil

            Taiwan is more similar to the Confederate settlements in Brazil. No one would have thought it reasonable for the United States to claim this territory in the 20th century, and they did not. Also, fighting bush wars is not the same thing as staking claims to territory.

            How on earth would they be comparable? Taiwan is as Chinese as Beijing. They speak the same language, celebrate the same holidays, eat the same food etc and the inhabitants are not colonial settlers.

            The USA has no leg to stand on when it comes to such matters, they claim the territories of Hawaii, Guam, Guantanamo Bay and Puerto Rico

            . Also, fighting bush wars is not the same thing as staking claims to territory.

            Your splitting hairs

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @An Fírinne
            Yes, the inhabitants of Taiwan are indeed colonial settlers. On the order of magnitude of US settlers vs indigenous peoples ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwanese_indigenous_peoples ).

            The USA has no leg to stand on when it comes to such matters, they claim the territories of Hawaii, Guam, Guantanamo Bay and Puerto Rico.

            – The inhabitants of Hawaii have more political rights than the inhabitants of mainland China.
            – Guam has had multiple referenda on it’s political future: https://www.guampedia.com/guams-political-status/ . Granted, the federal government hasn’t done anything to allow the implementation of these referenda, but it hasn’t prevented the referenda from taking place either. And it sure as hell hasn’t punished the native population for holding them.
            – Guantanamo Bay has no permanent residents (other than US military and prisoners). And the US is still technically paying Cuba rent for the land (Cuba simply refrains from cashing the check). Given tenant rights in most of the US (difficulty of expelling people from rental properties), the US can hardly be said to be hypocritical here.
            – Puerto Rico likewise has had multiple referenda.

            And China has nothing whatsoever that can compare to the Marshall Islands or the Philippines.

            China, on the other hand, wants to ignore the choice of the Taiwanese to be an independent state, threatening military action when the topic is brought up. It also directly conquered Tibet. Far more recently than any US conquests (and frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t mention Polk’s conquest of half of Mexico, much less the “winning of the West”).

            Do the Uighur or Tibetans have as much autonomy on their lands as the Utes or Cherokee have on theirs?

            So yeah, while the US may not have two legs to stand on, it at least has one leg to stand on.

            The best is not the enemy of the better.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Also, based on the original rental terms, and the legally recognized chain of inheritance, either the principle descendant of the last Emperor, or the government of Taiwan (as the lineal inheritor of the KMT, itself the legally recognized inheritor of the last Emperor) should have received title to Hong Kong. Yet the PRC demanded that they be recognized as inheritor despite these legally stronger claims.

          • sfoil says:

            How on earth would they be comparable? Taiwan is as Chinese as Beijing. They speak the same language, celebrate the same holidays, eat the same food etc and the inhabitants are not colonial settlers.

            What does this have to do with anything? This is basically true of the US and Canada. Would you support US claims to Ontario on the basis of being the true representative of Anglo culture in North America?

            I’m actually curious why you’re so willing to accept the Chinese claim to own Taiwan on the basis of “common culture”. These sorts of claims are exactly what gave nationalism a bad name in the twentieth century. Speaking of which, you should be aware that claiming that some polity “isn’t a real nation state” is pretty much the go-to justification for wars of conquest post-1945. Maybe you support the Chinese conquest of Taiwan — there are plenty of good reasons to do so, of which “being on the good side of the Chinese Communist Party” is one of the big ones — but as someone with presumably not much personally invested in the outcome, I don’t know why you would get worked up at the idea that Taiwan’s current government and its supporters opposes this.

            You’re splitting hairs

            No, I’m not. Even if you think that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a war of conquest (a reasonable case could be made) and more destructive than a hypothetical Taiwan War would be (I doubt it, although it’s not certain), it isn’t actually an argument that the PRC’s position and designs on Taiwan are objectively correct. Even if the United States had spent the last fifty years fighting to put the entire New World from the Nunavut to Tierra del Fuego under the Stars and Stripes this would be true.

          • An Fírinne says:

            @anonymousskimmer

            Yes, the inhabitants of Taiwan are indeed colonial settlers. On the order of magnitude of US settlers vs indigenous peoples ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwanese_indigenous_peoples ).

            Most Taiwanese have colonial ancestors but they themselves are not colonial settlers. They’ve been there for at the very least centuries.

            Once again the latent Sinophobia shows threw the cracks in the argument. The United States has indigenous peoples but that doesn’t mean non-Native Americans should not have sovereignty over say Washington DC or California. If the PRC is not obliged to make sovereignty claims over Taiwan because it has indigenous peoples then the US Government has no right to claim sovereignty over any inch of North America. You cannot have your cake and eat it too.

            he inhabitants of Hawaii have more political rights than the inhabitants of mainland China.
            – Guam has had multiple referenda on it’s political future: https://www.guampedia.com/guams-political-status/ . Granted, the federal government hasn’t done anything to allow the implementation of these referenda, but it hasn’t prevented the referenda from taking place either. And it sure as hell hasn’t punished the native population for holding them.
            – Guantanamo Bay has no permanent residents (other than US military and prisoners). And the US is still technically paying Cuba rent for the land (Cuba simply refrains from cashing the check). Given tenant rights in most of the US (difficulty of expelling people from rental properties), the US can hardly be said to be hypocritical here.
            – Puerto Rico likewise has had multiple referenda.

            This all irrelevant. The US is making claims on territories it has no right too. Also if Hawaii had a vote tomorrow and voted to form an Independent Republic of Hawaii are you really so naïve as to believe that the US Government would accept such a democratic vote as legitimate? Of course not! Same goes for Guam or anywhere else.

            >China, on the other hand, wants to ignore the choice of the Taiwanese to be an independent state, threatening military action when the topic is brought up. It also directly conquered Tibet. Far more recently than any US conquests (and frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t mention Polk’s conquest of half of Mexico, much less the “winning of the West”).
            Do the Uighur or Tibetans have as much autonomy on their lands as the Utes or Cherokee have on theirs?

            I should clarify that I do not support the Chinese occupation of Tibet or the East Turkistan but I do recognise this – Taiwan is Chinese and the USA has its own colonial mindset which cannot be denied.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            No, it isn’t irrelevant.

            You obviously don’t want to argue, so I won’t. That doesn’t mean your statements win, it just means you’re close-minded to any sort of nuance whatsoever, including massively large differences of kind.

            Taiwan has never, ever been governed by the PRC.

            Here’s a comic for you: https://amultiverse.com/comic/2019/10/07/the-actual-victim/

          • An Fírinne says:

            @anonymousskimmer

            No, it isn’t irrelevant.
            You obviously don’t want to argue, so I won’t. That doesn’t mean your statements win, it just means you’re close-minded to any sort of nuance whatsoever, including massively large differences of kind.

            This is a very poor response. The cliché “yea bro well your personal attack A, personal B and refusal to address points” is not something I would expect from a “rationalist”. Its very disappointing actually, even though my expectations were admittingly low.

            Taiwan has never, ever been governed by the PRC.

            It does not need to be to have a legitimate claim, although if we are going to play this game Mainland China and Taiwan have been united for centuries under the Chinese Empire and under the subsequent Republic of China which was set up in 1912 following the Xinhai Revolution.

            For the record Taiwan has just as much of a legitimate claim to Mainland China as Mainland China does to Taiwan. People like yourself know nothing about he culture and history of Taiwan and are merely pro-Taiwan for no other reason then you are Anti-China.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Stop calling me names, I’m not a Rationalist.

            Stop lumping me in with other people by assuming my worldview based solely on how I distinguish US imperialism from Chinese imperialism.

            Less of this, please.

          • although if we are going to play this game Mainland China and Taiwan have been united for centuries under the Chinese Empire and under the subsequent Republic of China which was set up in 1912 following the Xinhai Revolution.

            That is not the case. Imperial China ceded Taiwan to Japan in 1895. It only became Chinese again, under the Nationalist government, in 1945.

            It was also a Dutch colony in the 17th century.

  22. fr8train_ssc says:

    Last Year, Scott considered a hypothetical scenario to declare war on Cost Disease in Medicine.

    Flash forward to today, and a doctor in Pittsburgh is fighting the good fight. Although right now, it looks like at $35 a visit, here’s only making enough to break even on expenses without paying himself a salary.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Yeah, this model is not scalable. He has 4 patients a day, call it $2800 per month in revenue, which he claims cover his expenses. The article claims a maximum revenue of $180,000 per year, but that means taking 20 patients a day. How many hours a day is that? 10, at least? And when you back out the 2800/month=34k a year in expenses, that means $146k for his entire salary, which is absolute shit pay for an educated professional, especially one working 10+ hours a day with no vacations (ever). Keep in mind that would be the equivalent of your 401k and medical contributions included in that $146k, plus whatever else.

      Also, who is maintaining your EMR? This guy? Who is managing appointment schedules? Who is sending reminder emails and calling patients to come in for their appointments?

      Oh, and all the above assumes a 0% return on capital, and 0 budget for any major unexpected items. God help you if your malpractice insurance rates spike.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Price discrimination? The way airlines manage to fly a plane by charging $10 a seat – they charge a lot more for some of the seats.

        You have a basic cheap service ($35 visit) with a bunch of add-ons. IANAD, but stuff like ultrasound, drawing blood for tests, no-appointment/skip the line visit etc could easily make the same 30 minutes visit worth $80-$100, while still providing good value to the patient. These are examples of common practices in the non-insurance based clinics I use.

        As for managing appointments, you just need to invest a weekend in researching a decent software. Rent and maintenance will cut into your profit, of course, but I still see this as a decent business.

        Patients pay up front, so Wong’s practice doesn’t employ a biller. And since he doesn’t accept insurance, he also doesn’t have a medical coder, which is a person whose job is to submit documentation to insurance companies. These are the reasons, said Wong, why he can charge patients so little.

        What I don’t understand is why aren’t there companies providing these services to doctors for less than half of what an employee costs. I have a sneaking suspicion in the end the answer is “regulatory reasons”.

      • SamChevre says:

        I think that this model could work, but 20 patients a day is far too few. When I see a doctor, I rarely see the doctor for even 10 minutes. Get that down to 5 on average, and a doctor can see 10 patients an hour–at that point, you have something that can pay a doctor and 2 nurses. Round to 1600 billable hours a year, 10 patients an hour–you’re looking at two nurses at $50,000, costs of $35,000, and still paying the doctor $250,000. (I’m assuming that benefits cost 50% of salary–so (250+50+50)*1.5+35 = 1600 *10 *35.)

        The key to making it more profitable is to get the doctor’s time down, and replace it with cheaper providers. I think with a good nurse, and two adjunct professonals to take blood pressure/weight/history, a doctor could spend 2 minutes with the median patient (typical case: needs a new prescription for albuterol inhaler, or needs ears checked to see if this earache is an ear infection) and 10 minutes with the complicated ones, and average 15 patients an hour.

        • Chipsa says:

          Use nurse practitioners to decrease costs. Doesn’t even need to see the doc, for typical cases.

          • Plumber says:

            @Chipsa says:

            “Use nurse practitioners to decrease costs…”

            I’ve been seen by nurse practitioners and I can’t tell the difference in treatment between then and general practitioner physicians, except that nurse practitioners usually seem more authoritative than physicians as they are usually taller than average middle-aged and older women (while most other nurses seem shorter than average) while most physicians now are women that are usually around average height and look student aged.

            The few old male physicians left seem more authoritative than the nurse practitioners, but they’re pretty rare now, and the rare young male physicians are hard for me take seriously at all (yes I realize that this is all prejudice rather than reason on my part).

      • fr8train_ssc says:

        Yeah, I found it interesting that he ended up choosing the same price point as Scott ($35) but didn’t use many any of the cost saving measures. Perhaps he’s still working out a way of how it could work in his line of care.

        I think one model that might be interesting, but am personally unsure about the medical ethics/preventing-abuse around is a clinic that has both a physician and a pharmacist on site so you can obtain a prescription immediately after a diagnosis.

        It seems like the cost saving measures from sharing a facility and record keeping system for patients between the pharmacist and the physician would make it worthwhile, but again the only place I see this happening are the compassionate-care clinics which are basically a one-stop-shop for getting someone a medical marijuana prescription, with all the baggage that comes with that.

  23. Scott Summer worries that libertarians are being purged from the GOP:

    The post focuses on US politics, but first I’d like to comment on recent events in the UK. The Conservative Party recently purged 21 of its members, due to their opposition to Boris Johnson’s willingness to contemplate a no-deal Brexit. These included some of their most accomplished members, such as former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond. The ousted group held political views that were mainstream by the standards of the Conservatives circa 2010-16, when Prime Minister Cameron headed the party.

    The UK Conservative Party is obviously changing, but not necessarily in what Americans would regard as a “conservative” direction. Thus Johnson has reversed the austerity policies of Cameron and May, and decided to boost government spending on social programs. It’s becoming more like an Eastern European nationalist party, although Johnson himself still has a few “liberal” instincts.

    (snip)

    Now there are signs that the libertarian wing of the GOP is about to be purged. Here’s Reason:

    “I respect what Justin has done,” said his best friend in Congress, Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.), while sitting on a FreedomFest panel with Amash and Sen. Mike Lee (R–Utah). “But what I say is, if you read the Republican platform, there’s really nothing wrong with it, if you’re for smaller government and for liberty and support the Constitution. The problem is, if you follow the Republican platform as a Republican when you get to D.C., you will be reviled for it.”

    Massie, a four-term libertarian-leaner, has experienced what it’s like to be reviled by your own team. In early July, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that Massie will likely face a primary challenge backed by national Republican leaders who are angry at his ideological obstinance.

    (snip)

    As conservatism changes its focus from the previous free market/religious/hawkish coalition to a more nationalistic posture, there is a danger that the movement will become more intolerant of dissent.

    https://www.econlib.org/are-libertarians-being-purged/

    The difference between the example of the Conservative Party in the U.K. and the Republican Party in the U.S. is that the former had a long-running conflict among elected members between pro-European and Euro-skeptic factions. The latter is in charge now, and has the power to purge its opponents. In contrast, the Republican “purges” are being carried out by the very same people who held power in 2015. There is no reason to think they changed their minds on anything. The only difference between then and now is that Trump is President, and he’s done nothing to promote his ideological allies into positions of power. From what I can see, the purges are not about ideology so much as open opposition to Trump. In the Republican Party of today, you can promote all that libertarian stuff, you just can’t notice that Trump doesn’t believe it. The dominant idea of today’s Republican Party is not nationalism, it’s the Donald Trump Master Deal-Maker personality cult. Most of the actual nationalists who supported him in 2015 don’t much like him now. I can’t think of any falsifiable prediction to make, but my sense is that after Trump the “nationalistic posture” of the GOP will completely evaporate and it will try to go back to its old free market/religious/hawkish coalition.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      The part that you’re missing here is that the Republicans have been playing a very stupid game on immigration and trade for a long time. In some ways analogous to the Torys and their tactical use of euroskepticism while actually being comfortable with the EU status quo.

      When it’s time to fundraise or get voters out to the polls, they talk about cracking down on illegal immigration and anti-competitive policies of our trade partners. But as soon as they get into office, they decide that we need amnesty and offshoring. Then the base recoils and they reluctantly stop pushing the exact opposite policies that they were elected for.

      Trump won, and is able to threaten Republican congressmen, because he is willing to actually walk the walk. Right now there’s a mile of wall being built every day and the trade war with China is ongoing. It’s not perfect, he could be doing a lot better, but no other Republican was even prepared to try before now.

      • Aftagley says:

        mile of wall being built every day

        Source please. Last I heard they were still just replacing existing fencing and kept running into legal issues.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          @Aftagley

          Source as of late September. I haven’t seen anything that suggests a slowdown since.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Less than one month earlier:

            the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed just about 60 miles of “replacement” barrier during the first 2½ years of Trump’s presidency, all of it in areas that previously had border infrastructure.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            I might be wrong here but I don’t think that that’s contradictory.

            My understanding is that Wall construction was stalled / barely progressing until very recently, when the pace has finally picked up. The CBP estimate of 450 miles by the end of the year is very ambitious and I don’t expect that much to be built, but as far as I can tell from my previous link and the BBC a mile of new wall per day from August or September looks about right.

            Obviously that’s still too slow but it’s still infinitely more wall than Jeb or Hillary would have built.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nabil ad Dajjal:

            Where is your citation that any of the “wall” that has been built is not simply replacement fencing of already existing barriers?

            And, if there is any new, how much of it is new?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            I finally found a decent source.

            They go into more detail about the exact length of each segment in the spreadsheet, but on the map the color-coding does a good job of visualizing progress. Green indicates new construction, with solid green being new wall and a green outline being replacements for pre-existing fences or vehicle barriers. There’s a tiny bit of solid green, all in Texas.

            It looks like you’re right, there’s been ~1.5 miles of new wall built of which 1/3rd was built by Trump supporters on private property. The rest of the 125 miles that have been built are replacement wall or new walls on levees.

            It’s disappointing, and frankly I’m surprised that this isn’t getting more play in the press. I had a hell of a time finding real figures on how much wall had been built and where in the news. It was mostly complaining about cactuses.

          • Aftagley says:

            Thank you for going back and finding that source; I’d never seen the topic broken down in such detail before (and likely would have eye-rolled right on past a website with the .construction domain).

            It’s disappointing, and frankly I’m surprised that this isn’t getting more play in the press.

            I’ve heard it talked about a few times, but never in this level of detail.

            It was mostly complaining about cactuses.

            We’ve all been there.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Ok, somewhere a comment was eaten. Shorter repeat.

            I’ve consistently seen it reported that Trump a) claims to be building new wall, and b) actually has only been able to replace or change existing barriers.

            I don’t know why you think this hasn’t been reported.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @HeelBearCub,

            I’ve seen a handful of articles making claims along those lines, none of which cited sources or had any kind of up-to-date breakdown. It was all very vague and hand-wavey.

            I’m not just going to take their word for it, especially not when they have so much reason to lie.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            HBC,
            Why does replacing a vehicle barrier with a pedestrian barrier not count as “real”? See the image in the article you linked of a 4 foot jungle gym being replaced by a 10 foot fence with barbed wire.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Dpuglas Knight:

            I don’t think I’ve used the word “real”.

            What I’ve said is that he isn’t building new wall sections, just refurbishing existing sections or making them higher. Most of the work to establish that a barrier can exist in those places was already done. Trump hasn’t (yet, I guess) done the work to enable ~2000 miles of pedestrian barrier to be built.

            If you look at that website Nabil linked, you can see that current plans on that map only add up to ~250 miles.

          • broblawsky says:

            It’s disappointing, and frankly I’m surprised that this isn’t getting more play in the press. I had a hell of a time finding real figures on how much wall had been built and where in the news. It was mostly complaining about cactuses.

            From the perspective of the pro-Trump media: they’ve calculated that “He’s building the Wall” is a better message for getting Trump re-elected than “The leftists are stopping us from building the Wall”. From the perspective of everyone else: the Trump administration’s failures are less important than all of the terrible things he’s succeeding at.

          • albatross11 says:

            I suspect this is the best explanation. Pro Trump media want to talk about how he’s building the wall (yay!) or how the Democrats are obstructing him building the wall (boo!). Anti Trump media want to talk about how he’s building the wall (boo!) and how the Democrats are obstructing him building the wall (yay!).

            No partisan source (which is most political reporting) has any particular incentive to report that he’s actually not building much new wall, not so much because of effective opposition by Democrats or liberal judges or whatever, but rather because he’s ineffectual and easily distracted and unfamiliar with the levers of power in his office.

            This story also doesn’t manage to work as clickbait or outrage fuel for very many people. And it doesn’t tell a story that a lot of people want to hear. So there are still news sources that will tell it to you, because they think their job is honestly reporting what’s happening. But most news sources aren’t going to cover it, or cover it much.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Again, I’ve seen these facts reported repeatedly. Trump is trying to come up with ways to build the wall, including declaring an “emergency”. Trump has not yet been successful in doing more than replacing existing barrier.

            These reports came to me. I didn’t have to go hunt them out. Follow a moderately active political blogger and you will see many reports of these items.

            This is not the cynical outrage of the day you are looking for …

          • CatCube says:

            @Nabil ad Dajjal

            That is a really interesting site. Thanks for posting it.

            @Douglas Knight

            Why does replacing a vehicle barrier with a pedestrian barrier not count as “real”? See the image in the article you linked of a 4 foot jungle gym being replaced by a 10 foot fence with barbed wire.

            It’s hard to say if any particular instance of this replacement is “real” or not without knowing the terrain and the threat for a particular section. As I always hammer on, the wall won’t stop people, the wall enables the Border Patrol to stop people. I use a bank vault as a simile: even the best, well made door can be breached with enough time. However, if the time it takes is more than the time until your guard returns on his rounds then you successfully stop the intruder. But, crucially, the bank vault is just making the guard force more efficient. Instead of needing a guy to sit there 24/7 at each vault, you can have one guard watch all of them.

            This is how all types of obstacles work: by increasing the efficiency of your security forces. Similarly, if you have a great sensor system that can detect every border-jumper and even count their freckles, it’s worthless without people that can respond. If it detects a border-jumper and it takes 4 hours for the Border Patrol to get to them, but it only takes two hours for the intruder to disappear into the nearest town, then the sensor system is better run by the Census Bureau than the Border Patrol because all you’re doing is counting population increases. You need to consider all of your obstacles (both natural and reinforcing) as part of a system, and even the most impressive-looking might not add value if you don’t do this.

            So the question for this replacement in the picture is “Were breaches by pedestrians without vehicles a major issue at this location?” If this location is in a remote desert area where it is dangerous to cross without a vehicle because you’ll probably die without the mobility and water-carrying capacity from a vehicle, then the vehicle barrier is probably just fine at stopping people from crossing. I don’t know for this particular segment. If the CBP has been trying to get that built for a while, then it probably adds value. If it was upgraded just for the sake of upgrading by decree from Washington without due consideration from local forces, then probably not. I’d hope they’re starting in areas with already-identified problems and a plan for making use of the new obstacles.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            CatCube, OK, if no construction can be assessed as real, then upgrades don’t count, but that’s very different from saying that fresh construction is more real than upgrades.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        A mile of fencing is being replaced, by newer taller fencing, probably.

        I’m skeptical that much if any of the constructed barrier at this point is de novo.

    • Clutzy says:

      I think Nabil ad Dajjal’s post has a lot to recommend it. I also, however, think that Libertarians are removing themselves more than they are being purged.

      I frequent Reason.com, and in particular the Volokh Conspiracy sub-portion. Reason libertarians, which I think track fairly well with the ones “leaving” the GOP, have 1 primary reason for leaving: They are pro-immigration, and its their #1 issue, by far, like if you made a pie chart of all their issues it would look kinda like this. The thing is, no one else knew this prior to 2015. I think most people thought there was a small stoner contingent that was basically drug, libertarians, and a big fiscal libertarian segment. Why else would they have been in the GOP?

      So I think I understand now why they are leaving, based on revealed preferences, but I don’t know why they ever were in the GOP, when fiscal issues have been revealed as almost irrelevant to them.

      • mdet says:

        A few threads ago, in a discussion about why people of all political stripes feel like they’re losing, someone suggested that people re-sort their priorities to emphasize whatever area the feel like they’re losing on. Your priorities are just a list of where you feel the most threatened. It may be that no one knew immigration was Reason-libertarians’ #1 issue prior to 2015 because it wasn’t their #1 issue prior to 2015, they didn’t feel threatened on it. Fiscal issues are irrelevant to them now because they’re satisfied with the state of things (or not — I just read a Reason article yesterday complaining about growing federal debt & deficits).

        Agreed that it looks more like libertarians are removing themselves from the GOP than an active purge though. On the other hand, my libertarian irl-friend is still very satisfied with Trump.

        ETA: Is there any data on self-described libertarians, their priorities, and their factions? There seems to me to be a split between the libertarians I’ve known in real life, who are basically standard Republican voters who don’t go to church, and the libertarians at Reason, who encourage more immigration and are broadly critical of Trump.

        • achenx says:

          I don’t think many libertarians are “satisfied with the state of things” fiscally, but that’s also not a change from any time in the past many many years, so it has probably moved to background noise in many cases. Like the one recent Reason article you found, you can find the diehards still banging the drum about it but they probably feel like they’re pushing the stone up the hill*. For people who care about immigration, that’s something that is changing now and could conceivably change in better or worse ways in the near future, so it starts sucking up the energy.

          * Mixing some metaphors there. I feel like Zapp Brannigan.

      • Speaking as a libertarian, the two Trump high priority policies that I see as going in precisely the wrong direction are immigration and trade. I don’t read Reason regularly enough to be sure of their position, but my guess is that a lot of libertarians would agree.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      They’ve been trying to go back for awhile but they have the little problem that there simply isn’t a voting base for ‘old free market/religious/hawkish’ — a donor base maybe.

      • This. The problem is that there’s a growing anxiety on the right half of the spectrum that immigration trends will create a permanent left wing ethnic coalition and otherwise alter Western culture and politics in ways they don’t like, and that anxiety is only going to increase the more the demographics shift, unless you have some ideological think tanks do enough work to convince average right wingers otherwise.

        I think the nationalist wave among US conservatives will survive Trump because Trump himself is only a product of a trend that is nearly universal across the Western world, in which the right parties are becoming more nationalism oriented. The shock of 2015 is still rippling through politics.

        • FormerRanger says:

          This. The nationalist position varies from country to country, but it is everywhere a rejection of the “open borders,” “free trade” position that is the default of the US Democrats, the “secret” policy of the US NeverTrump Republicans, and the apparent position of the “elites” of the UK, France and Germany.

          Until relatively recently (a decade or so ago), only a fringe supported open borders. The normal liberal position was that legal immigration is a good thing if there isn’t too much of it, with the additional qualifiers that illegal immigration is a bad thing, and immigrants who don’t assimilate into the culture of the country were bad.

          I have yet to hear a principled defense of open borders and non-assimilation.

          • John Schilling says:

            but it is everywhere a rejection of the “open borders,” “free trade” position that is the default of the US Democrats, the “secret” policy of the US NeverTrump Republicans,

            Free trade, yes, but I’m pretty sure open borders has never been the default or even “secret” policy of most mainstream Democrats and/or “NeverTrump” Republicans in the United States. I think you are confusing a desire for more legal immigration, with a desire for unrestricted legal immigration.

            The Democratic party might, in its race to be always one step left of the Republicans on the subject, wind up in a place of utterly ineffectual restrictions on immigration. But to say that represents an open-borders policy is like saying that e.g. Herbert Hoover had a great-depression policy.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @John Schilling

            Repeated and aggressive amnesties are close to the same thing in practice.

          • John Schilling says:

            But practice is not the same thing as policy. Also, I’d dispute the “repeated and aggressive” part; 1986 was over thirty years ago and what’s been done since has been edge cases, no “legalize them all”.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @John Schilling

            Sure, because they’d get politically murdered back home if they did it.

            The attempts have been repeated and aggressive.

          • I have yet to hear a principled defense of open borders and non-assimilation.

            How about open borders and voluntary assimilation? That was the de facto U.S. policy for the first hundred and fifty years, aside from some restrictions in the final fifty years on Chinese immigration.

            And even the restrictions that came in in the nineteen-twenties didn’t apply then to New World immigrants, who are the bulk of the present would-be immigrants.

          • John Schilling says:

            The attempts have been repeated and aggressive.

            OK, but a few posts ago you were talking about “in practice”, and now you’re talking about failed attempts which mean the thing attempted wasn’t actually practiced.

            “We should have an amnesty and then close the border”, is not at all the same as “we should have open borders”. You may believe that this proposal would if implemented fail in a way that approximates open borders, and I would be sympathetic to that belief.

            But from there to claiming that both the Democrats and the non-Trump Republicans are all secretly planning a failed implementation of this proposal as part of their alleged secret open-borders agenda, requires more support than just the observation that they keep trying to do a thing that could fail in an open-bordered way.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @John Schilling

            Fair.

            What I should have said (and meant) was that in practice repeated and aggressive amnesties WOULD be the same thing.

            Whenever the number of illegals gets to a critical number, elites try to amnesty some to all of those illegals.

            The fact that the mass of people defeated them in every attempt so far is a sign this is not a popular position.

            The fact that the elites keep floating it is a sign that the elites are in favor of this.

            Witness the fact that no elites pre-Trump were floating the substantially more popular position that we should dramatically cut immigration.

          • albatross11 says:

            David:

            How would we square open borders with anything like our current welfare state? If you assume that part of the point of a welfare state is to avoid having pits of dire poverty in your country[1], then allowing a huge number of poor people in who aren’t eligible for welfare for a decade probably means importing a lot of poverty. Assuming everyone who immigrates and stays will eventually become eligible for those programs (which I think is almost inevitable), it’s not clear that an illiterate campesino who comes here to do yard work is *ever* going to be productive enough to cover the cost of the government programs he will eventually consume.

            [1] We’ll just ignore those homeless encampments for now.

          • How would we square open borders with anything like our current welfare state?

            Fair question. My proposal, made a very long time ago, is that new immigrants should not get welfare, or the vote, for some reasonably extended period of time.

            If you assume that part of the point of a welfare state is to avoid having pits of dire poverty in your country[1], then allowing a huge number of poor people in who aren’t eligible for welfare for a decade probably means importing a lot of poverty.

            Yes. I cannot see why having a bunch of people in our country who are poor by our standards is worse than having the same people outside of our country and much poorer.

            Think about the implications of the claim that it is better to have people starving to death where you cannot see them than merely hungry where you can.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            @JohnShilling — This doesn’t directly address what you’ve said necessarily, but…

            The meme surrounding mainstream republicans is that they support amnesty today in exchange for promises of future immigration control reforms which can easily be reneged upon. To a republican restrictionist voter this is either the product of stupidity or duplicity. Another meme would be that employer business interests are disproportionately influential in the GOP and in the short term benefit from Visas [and visa overstays].

            The idea that the GOP doesn’t support border security for reasons of fiscal conservatism or respect for personal privacy is also heavily suspect given how easily they’ll support deepening the deficit for the sake of tax cuts or a foreign intervention. Paul Ryan came across as adamant

            The term frequently used to describe the status quo by its critics is ‘open borders’, but whether or not the word properly describes the phenomenon is largely irrelevant *if* it is agreed that 1. The status quo has been and will be sufficient to affect dramatic demographic, cultural, and economic change. 2. Almost the entire democrat and a fair proportion of the republican party are adamant about keeping Trump from doing something to alter the state of affairs.

            @DavidFriedman
            My understanding of US immigration policy is:
            1. The US restricted citizenship to free white men of good moral character, then extended that to freedmen and their descendants.
            2. Quantitative restrictions did not exist until the 20s, but even in the absence of legal limits, immigration-in-mass itself did not occur until after the civil war, and the 1920 immigration restriction was partially a result of the cultural shock that said immigrant wave produced. I think it is reasonable to assume that the national origins quota overlooked south and central America out of the drafters assumption that immigration wasn’t coming and would not come from that direction at the time rather than a desire to shun south and eastern europeans in favor of more immigrants from south and central america.
            3. Describing assimilation as voluntary would only have been true in the thin libertarian sense which looks solely at laws . Assimilation is more voluntary today in the thick libertarian sense that legal and social attitudes [in certain parts of the united states at least] actively protect immigrants from any social expectation to assimilate.

            The case where open borders succeeds [or fails to fail] seems to hinge on assumptions some of which were true in the past in the united states and virtually none of which are true today. (In particular, everyone carries their own weight, no affect of immigration on the legal and regulatory regime, negative externalizes if not negligible are appropriately priced, business opportunities are easy to get off the ground)

          • Machine Interface says:

            A thing that kinda clashes with the idea that we are being more and more subjected to a policy that goes toward the endpoint of open borders is that I’ve heard from people who travel a lot internationally and have done it for a long period of time that legally passing international borders, even as a tourist or for a business trip, even between western countries, has become increasingly more difficult over the last 30 years.

          • John Schilling says:

            The meme surrounding mainstream republicans is that they support amnesty today in exchange for promises of future immigration control reforms which can easily be reneged upon.

            Yes, and the meme surrounding non-mainstream Republicans is that they are all microcephalic racist literal Nazis. Stipulated that there’s lots of memes saying the outgroup is stupid venal people who can’t be trusted, for every possible outgroup. Have you got anything more substantial than memes here?

            Because the reality is, thirty-three years ago when nobody had tried it before, mainstream Republicans said “OK, this looks like it is worth a try”.
            And got burned by it, and ever since have shot down every proposal for a broad amnesty first and border controls later. They have from time to time allowed narrowly-tailored amnesties like DACA, but anyone using that plus 1986 as an excuse to say “all you RINOs are secret open-borders advocates” basically just deserve the eyes rolled, moving on, treatment.

            And instead get the microcephalic racist literal Nazi treatment, because it’s all about the memes. Knock it off with the memes already.

          • The Nybbler says:

            How about open borders and voluntary assimilation? That was the de facto U.S. policy for the first hundred and fifty years, aside from some restrictions in the final fifty years on Chinese immigration.

            Conditions have changed. We have a welfare state now, and the immigrants would be likely even _less_ libertarian than the current US electorate. And the cultural pressure is for the locals to accommodate to the newcomers, rather than vice-versa, as exemplified by the horrified reaction to the late Joey Vento’s English-only cheesesteak joint.

            Now open borders just means more people to make my home foreign to me and vote money from my pocket to support themselves

            It doesn’t matter if there’s a deal not to provide welfare or citizenship; that deal will be altered as soon as the side which benefits from altering it gets temporary power, which will occur no later than the children of the immigrants getting the vote (and likely much sooner)

          • Clutzy says:

            A thing that kinda clashes with the idea that we are being more and more subjected to a policy that goes toward the endpoint of open borders is that I’ve heard from people who travel a lot internationally and have done it for a long period of time that legally passing international borders, even as a tourist or for a business trip, even between western countries, has become increasingly more difficult over the last 30 years.

            This cannot be true. I just went to Europe and back, and the customs checks were virtually nonexistent on both sides. Into Europe an Italian lady asked me if I was carrying any prohibited goods, I said no and got stamped through. Then you get no checks at all moving through countries. Coming back you filled out an e-form and get stamped through basically on your own honesty.

          • ana53294 says:

            They do subject some out of the EU flights to more checks than others.

            So if you came to the EU from the US, you probably won’t be checked much. But if you travel a suspicious route, you’re much more likely to be checked.

            People travelling known trafficking and contraband routes get a lot more checks than others.

            And ubiquitous X-rays afford a lot more unobstrusive checks than what may have been possible in the past. They also have all those kits that do checks for chemicals really fast. The explosives check is just swiping the inside of your baggage, and it’s fast.

          • Clutzy says:

            And ubiquitous X-rays afford a lot more unobstrusive checks than what may have been possible in the past. They also have all those kits that do checks for chemicals really fast. The explosives check is just swiping the inside of your baggage, and it’s fast.

            But that has nothing to do with borders. I have to do that if I fly from Chicago to Atlanta. That’s simply airline security, which is in a post 9/11 world, but had been stepping up in vigor even before that.

          • Plumber says:

            @The Nybbler says: “…open borders just means more people to make my home foreign to me and vote money from my pocket to support themselves…”

            While immigrant voters and their children (but not their grandchildren) are indeed more likely than most other voters to support the Democratic Party which is more pro taxation and redistribution than the Republicans are, the demographic within Democrats that’s most supportive of increased redistribution and taxation are Democrats who earn between $80,000 and $200,000 a year (unlike Republicans who tend to be more supportive of redistribution when they earn less than $40,000 a year).

            So maybe if you really want less support for folks voting “money from my pocket”, instead of limiting foreign immigration, you should discourage folks from getting college diplomas and moving to cities. 

          • The Nybbler says:

            So maybe if you really want less support for folks voting “money from my pocket”, instead of limiting foreign immigration, you should discourage folks from getting college diplomas and moving to cities.

            Why shouldn’t I embrace the power of “both”?

          • Clutzy says:

            While immigrant voters and their children (but not their grandchildren) are indeed more likely than most other voters to support the Democratic Party which is more pro taxation and redistribution than the Republicans are, the demographic within Democrats that’s most supportive of increased redistribution and taxation are Democrats who earn between $80,000 and $200,000 a year (unlike Republicans who tend to be more supportive of redistribution when they earn less than $40,000 a year).

            Sounds like Scott’s “anyone buy the outgroup”. Immigrants and 80k+ Democrats aren’t natural allies, but they become so to fight the outgroup of 80k+ Dems.

        • The main problem I see is that is preventing American nationalism from having the successes of European nationalistic movements is that American politicians who take a “nationalistic” stance are still wedded to conservative economic policies and support for the MIC, at a time when big corporations and the MIC are taking a vocal globalist stance.

    • DavidS says:

      In the UK it’s not a purge of the faction per se – it’s a requirement that MPs toe the line on a central policy. People are leaving voluntarily or kicked out because they refused to support Boris Johnson on an issue he presented as a confidence issue. There are europhile Tories who whether for cynical or sincere reasons are toeing the line and are I think at no real risk

      • Tarpitz says:

        Agreed, and in fact the libertarian faction within the Tory party is overwhelmingly extremely Eurosceptic and happier with the current leadership than with any for many years. It’s centrist corporatist mildly authoritarian types who are leaving, for the most part (along with a few hard-to-categorise principled eccentrics like Rory Stewart).

        • Garrett says:

          Isn’t the party of libertarians in the UK the Lib-Dems?

          • Lambert says:

            Historically, yes. (and the were just the Liberals or Whigs)
            Nowadays, where do they even stand? (beyond brown-nosing Cameron then becoming the remain party.)

          • The Lib Dems were formed by a fusion of the Social Democratic Party, a progressive party formed from ex-Labour members uncomfortable with Labour’s leftward shift in the 80s, and the old Liberal Party, a party that started out as what we would call classically liberal, but made the transformation to social liberalism at the end of the 19th Century. The Liberal Party was supplanted by Labour as the main opposition to the Tories after WWI.

            Today, they’d best be described as a culturally progressive party that does the same genuflections left wing parties do, but sticks to the center on economic issues, or whatever is convenient at the time. They’re certainly not libertarians, although there may be some in the party.

            Their defining trait today is having a more clear cut anti-Brexit position than Labour who have either a nuanced or muddled position depending on your interpretation.

  24. jgr314 says:

    Inspired by the (as-I-type) 11 cent bid for HRC on predictit’s 2020 dem nomination market, what is your dream candidate and match-up for 2020 POTUS and why?

    I’d like this to stay in the realm of realistic fiction, so please limit yourself to candidates who are currently (1) alive humans satisfying the Constitutional qualifications, (2) have previously held at least medium-high elected office (flexible here, but I’m thinking mayor of a large city, governor of a state, HR rep or Senator).

    Because this is fantasy fulfillment where we dream of a better world than we have, I’d like to avoid conflict and ask that y’all refrain from criticizing other people’s choices.

    • souleater says:

      Ben Sasse would be nice

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

      • broblawsky says:

        Can I ask why Sasse? This isn’t meant as any kind of criticism: I’m just curious.

        • souleater says:

          I’m generally frustrated with the republican party’s inability to stand up to Trump. I feel like we spent 8 years with Obama screaming about how rule of law matters, and the deficit matters, and executive overreach matters… but now that “our guy” is in office the republicans are cowed and flaccid. Sasse seems like one of the very few people willing to call a dumpster fire a dumpster fire.

          I like and respect that.

    • EchoChaos says:

      My favorite matchup would be an anti-immigration Democrat like early 2000s Bernie Sanders against an anti-immigration Republican like Tom Cotton because of the Overton window move it would create.

      I don’t know if any current Democrats are like that. Maybe Tulsi Gabbard?

      • Ttar says:

        +1 on Tulsi. I can’t get behind the minimum wage and single payer stuff but if I had to choose someone in the actual running, her views are less terrible than most and I wouldn’t mind having to look at her face in my news feed for 4-8 years…

        • Aftagley says:

          -1 on Tulsi. Her weird views on Syria and the closeness she has with Russia seem disqualifying to me.

          • Nick says:

            I really like Tulsi’s anti-war views, I really don’t like Tulsi’s Assad-friendly views.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nick: Tulsi Gabbard’s comfort with Assad seems to stem from having fought Islamic fundamentalism as a US servicewoman. Yes, Assad is a bad man, but her views seem to show a maturity lacking in many of the Democratic Presidential candidates.
            It would be a positive thing to have a veteran Commander-in-Chief again, though not really worth thinking about given how she’s not going to win.

          • Aftagley says:

            I don’t know; I’d believe her if she was able to consistently keep the message of “He’s the best of our bad options.”

            The fact that she doesn’t, she’s tried to cast doubt on the chemical weapons attacks and generally serves as an apologist to his extreme actions are just weird. That combined with RT/Sputnik/Russia’s massive support of her just make me too skeptical to ever trust her.

          • souleater says:

            I wonder if Tulsi could make the case that there is a war between 2 factions in the middle east… we’re backing Saudi Arabia & friends.

            But there isn’t a really good reason to align ourselves with the Saudis over the Iranians… except that the Iranians don’t like us.

            Although I imagine that probably has something to do with the fact that were allied to all their enemies.

            I can easily imagine an alternate reality where we’re allied with Iran and Syria and the Saudis are rushing through sanctions to acquire Nuclear weapons.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Aftagley:

            I don’t know; I’d believe her if she was able to consistently keep the message of “He’s the best of our bad options.”

            The fact that she doesn’t, she’s tried to cast doubt on the chemical weapons attacks and generally serves as an apologist to his extreme actions are just weird. That combined with RT/Sputnik/Russia’s massive support of her just make me too skeptical to ever trust her.

            Hrm, that’s fair.

          • birdboy2000 says:

            Assad is a brutal dictator. But the remaining armed opposition to him consists of al-Qaeda and various proxies (often themselves very Islamist) for Turkish expansionism. The liberals are dead or in exile, the SDF isn’t at war with Assad and has a way bigger problem to its north. It’s hard to see what harm being pro-Assad would do at this point, he’s the least bad option left.

    • Watchman says:

      Isn’t condition (2) an unnecessary limitation for two reasons:

      a. The current President shows it is not a requirement to become President. If this is seen as a requirement in real terms it might explain some of Trump’s success even.

      b. There are probably lots of potentially-good fantasy presidents amongst non-office-holding Democrats and Democrat-adjacent figures, perhaps especially in business, who might honestly be preferable to any elected politician. It seems odd to exclude them on a purely credentialist basis.

    • honoredb says:

      For entertainment value, Mike Gravel vs. Sarah Palin. Two weird outsider Alaskans who’d bring all sorts of ideas into the mainstream conversation. Mostly not good ideas but still. And it’s almost realistic.

      For Presidents who would address existential risk and not break things, allowing my level of background anxiety to decrease, Cory Booker vs. Charlie Baker. Bonus points if their VP picks also have the same initials.

      For actual substantive debate, Elizabeth Warren vs. Paul Ryan–their personal brands demand it.

      • Chalid says:

        I like Booker more than most of the field, and I wouldn’t have guessed that his campaign would so completely fail to gain traction. At the very least as Biden shed support I thought he’d get some of it.

    • broblawsky says:

      I wish Jay Inslee had done better in the primary.

      • jgr314 says:

        I remember Inslee from when I was a child living in WA, so it feels like a strange form of deja vu to hear his name again after decades away.

    • Plumber says:

      @jgr314 says:

      “Inspired by the (as-I-type) 11 cent bid for HRC on predictit’s 2020 dem nomination market, what is your dream candidate and match-up for 2020 POTUS and why?…”

      For the Democratic nominee I’ve heard good things about Sherrod Brown so I’ll go with him, for the Republican U’ll go with Rand Paul as I at least have some idea on what he stands for.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I don’t think you are actually all that familiar with Rand Paul…

        • Plumber says:

          @HeelBearCub,
          True enough, I’m just more ignorant of the other Republicans.

          • albatross11 says:

            Rand Paul inherited a lot of his dad’s following, who were mostly the libertarian fringe of the Republican party. He’s more libertarian than the average Republican, but seems to have lost a lot of his independent streak over the last few years and become more generic Republican.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Along with this, is the necessary following issue that where Rand Paul actually “stands” and what the average political consumer thinks of where he stands or more divergent than for the generic Republican.

            So when Plumber says he would prefer Rand Paul because he know what he stands for, but doesn’t for other Republicans …

    • SamChevre says:

      I’m ignoring condition 2 (after all, Trump did not meet it) and going for sheer amusement value. Assuming the 2020 GOP candidate is Trump, I’d like Kanye West for the opposing candidate.

      We might get a terrible President, but the campaign would be amazing.

      • jgr314 says:

        Would Kanye be the true “let’s burn it all down” candidate, or is there someone more extraordinary we could draft?

        In any case, I assume his running mate would be Charlie Sheen, no?

        • SamChevre says:

          I’m not going for “burn it all down”–I’m going for “apparently we’re living in a reality TV show, where who we elect makes no difference to policy whatsoever*, so let’s have plenty of spectacle.”

          *See Obamacare passage and non-repeal, Proposition 8, Proposition 187, and so forth for examples.

        • Tarpitz says:

          Antonio Brown.

          And sure, he can run with Charlie Sheen, but I think we can do better than Trump for the Republicans.

          Axl Rose?

          It’s a shame Mel Gibson isn’t eligible to be his running mate. Hmm. Ted Nugent?

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I remain satisfied with my previous answer.

    • ManyCookies says:

      Mitt is a old tired soul, but he knows he can’t turn his back on the country he loves. With head held high, Willard Mitt Romney comes out of retirement and makes his second bid for president. His traditional conservative profile and calm demeanor proves an effective counterweight to the Trump’s debauchery and chaos, and he stuns the nation by narrowly clinching the Republican primary.

      But if Romney is the sleeping giant, Hilary Clinton is the rising phoenix. Facing the shame of her 2016 defeat and the scorn of her own party, Clinton privately retreats into her foundation’s charity work. She proves an admirably effective administrator while doing personal street-level work, and she finds solace in elevating the disenfranchised and repairing broken lives; by late 2019, the Clinton Foundation is universally praised throughout inner-city America, a beacon of hope in a rough environment. With renewed purpose and first-hand understanding of the importance of progressive values, along with vehement disavowment of her prior Wall Street friends, Clinton smashes the Democratic primary and hits the road to universal Democratic fanfare.

      Will Romney’s conservative values or Clinton’s newfound progressive focus win out? The fate of America shall be decided in:

      Election 2020: Loser’s Bracket

  25. johan_larson says:

    You are invited to make a small change to the popular culture of your nation or region. By small change, I mean something on the order of swapping American football for soccer, country music for hiphop, or tabletop war games for MMO RPGs.

    What do you have in mind?

    • DeWitt says:

      I’d make alcohol less popular of a drink, and have something else fill its void. The Chinese love their tea, which was one thing, but seeing middle-aged men watching football sip juice over in Portugal was just surreal to me.

    • jgr314 says:

      Some candidates:
      – replace checkers with go as a widely known board game
      – change the way we count to follow a strict place-value format (e.g., no special number names like “twelve” or “twenty” and instead use either “one-two”/”two-zero” or “ten-two”/”two-ten”)
      – replace English (a language with more exceptions than rule-following words) with Spanish (almost entirely rule-following). Obviously, this is more major.
      – replace sitcoms with improv as the mass-popular form of comedy (I expect this to be the most controversial of my proposals).

      • Machine Interface says:

        – replace English (a language with more exceptions than rule-following words) with Spanish (almost entirely rule-following).

        This is really overselling Spanish.

        • Watchman says:

          Indeed. German would be better on thus basis. Or esperanto I suppose.

        • sentientbeings says:

          True but with the caveat that in some Spanish dialects, people essentially ignore the irregular conjugations and substitute them with improper “regular” versions and everything works smoothly. I haven’t really thought about how that would work in English, but I think it would sound very strange.

        • jgr314 says:

          I had in mind the reading transformation {written} -> {spoken}
          Some Spanish exceptions are noted here: Phonetic exceptions.

          The reverse transformation {spoke} -> {written} is also strong, though that link discusses complications as well.

          I would also endorse German from this perspective. I’m sure there are other languages that are good in this regard.

        • Machine Interface says:

          My usual recommendation when this topic comes up is Malay/Indonesian. Very easy pronunciation (simpler than either Italian or Spanish), very transparent spelling in the Latin alphabet (again, more so than even Italian or Spanish), no gender, no nominal declension, no conjugation by tense or person, and large segments of the vocabulary will already be familiar to westerners (loans from Dutch, Portuguese and English, and through them Greek and Latin), middle-easterners (loans from Persian and Arabic), south asians (loans from Sanskrit and various other Indian languages) and east asians (loans from multiple varieties of Chinese).

      • The original Mr. X says:

        English (a language with more exceptions than rule-following words)

        *laughs in Ancient Greek*

        Seriously, though, I don’t think English grammar is that exception-laden. At any rate, all the non-native-speakers I’ve asked have said that the biggest difficulty is the wide variety of prepositional phrases (put up, put down, put on, put off; shut up, shut down; etc.), most of which don’t really make sense unless you already know what they mean.

      • spkaca says:

        “change the way we count to follow a strict place-value format (e.g., no special number names like “twelve” or “twenty” and instead use either “one-two”/”two-zero” or “ten-two”/”two-ten”)”
        Welsh does this. Twelve is ‘un deg dau’, literally ‘one ten two’, 22 is ‘dau deg dau’ (pronounced ‘die deg die’) lit. ‘two tens two’, 34 is ‘tri deg pedwar’ (‘three tens four’), etc.

    • KieferO says:

      I’m torn. The prospect of replacing American Football with Rugby Union is a good one: it still satisfies the need for a violent sport, but the injuries in Rugby seem less severe than in Gridiron Football. There have been many changes in American Football since it definitively split from other codes of football in the 1880s. I view most of these as having been good, but also chasing a local optimum at the expense of a global one.

      But what really takes the cake for small pop-culture change with an outsized positive impact is to remove the PG-13 rating from the MPAA classification scheme. I believe that the existence of PG-13 has worsened both kid movies and non-kid movies. Because it’s possible (and more profitable to) make a blockbuster move that appeals to adult sensibilities but makes the PG-13 grade, it’s a requirement. This means that movies that set out to address the totality of adult existence aren’t ever really designed to appeal to a broad audience.

      So if I get extra points for it being a small change, I’m going with the PG-13 thing.

      • EchoChaos says:

        I’m torn. The prospect of replacing American Football with Rugby Union is a good one: it still satisfies the need for a violent sport, but the injuries in Rugby seem less severe than in Gridiron Football. There have been many changes in American Football since it definitively split from other codes of football in the 1880s. I view most of these as having been good, but also chasing a local optimum at the expense of a global one.

        This is a good one, but don’t forget to also add Cricket as a national sport (don’t replace baseball, just get both).

        Cricket’s wonderful pace means that Americans will have plenty to discuss.

        But what really takes the cake for small pop-culture change with an outsized positive impact is to remove the PG-13 rating from the MPAA classification scheme. I believe that the existence of PG-13 has worsened both kid movies and non-kid movies. Because it’s possible (and more profitable to) make a blockbuster move that appeals to adult sensibilities but makes the PG-13 grade, it’s a requirement. This means that movies that set out to address the totality of adult existence aren’t ever really designed to appeal to a broad audience.

        This is a magnificent change and I wish I’d thought of it.

      • aristides says:

        I thing the PG-13 thing is a bad idea. Let’s use the most obvious blockbusters as an example, the Marvel movies. Do you predict that after this change more would be made R or more would be PG? Disney wants as broad of an audience as possible, and especially likes families with children. I predict Disney would make every future Marvel movie PG at the expense of adult themes. They can already look at the success of Into the Spiderverse, which was an amazing movie, and make all future Marvel movies PG.

        I suppose superhero competitors like DC would lean more into the R rating to differentiate themselves, but they are already doing that with Joker.

        Is this the change you wanted?

        • Aftagley says:

          Kinda? Anything that breaks the increasing homogenization of pop culture. Everything is trying to be everything to everyone.

        • Plumber says:

          @aristides says:

          “I thing the PG-13 thing is a bad idea. Let’s use the most obvious blockbusters as an example, the Marvel movies…

          …Is this the change you wanted?”

          I thought the first Spiderman movie and the bits of the second one I saw (it had Dr. Octopus in it) were okay, and the X-Men scene of a child Magneo bending the bars of the gates of a concentration camp to get to his mother was brilliant, the rest of the Marvel films that I saw bits of were forgettable.

          The last film that I saw in the theatre was Cars 2 which my son loved, so I’d like more like that, of memorable films released this last decade that impressed ne there’s: ’71, Locke, and 20th century women.

          More films for kids and grown-ups instead of the deluge of teen/young adult movies seems a fine idea to me.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Make dressing up smartly be seen as a good thing. People nowadays are too scruffy.

      Also, not entirely unrelated, have architects embrace the value of making buildings that are actually nice to look at. (Not sure that strictly counts as “popular” culture, but it would certainly affect a lot of people’s lives for the better.)

      Also, just for fun, make epic poetry a popular literary genre once again.

      • Nick says:

        Also, not entirely unrelated, have architects embrace the value of making buildings that are actually nice to look at. (Not sure that strictly counts as “popular” culture, but it would certainly affect a lot of people’s lives for the better.)

        THIS

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Make dressing up smartly be seen as a good thing. People nowadays are too scruffy.

        Fine but for my change I’m making t-shirts and hoodies considered formal attire

      • noyann says:

        Require every architect to live for a year in a building they designed (on their own money, of course).

    • Urstoff says:

      Get rid of cultural awards (e.g., Oscars, Emmys, Hugos, Grammys, etc.; maybe even the Nobel Prizes). They increase conflict and dumb down artistic criticism.

      • Machine Interface says:

        I’ll oneup you and get rid on the entire notion of “art”. There is only craft.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          Too many examples of master craftsmen who have really honed their techne, but have no gift, that don’t make good art. Lots of conscious/underground rappers are incredible lyricists and performers, without ever being interesting. Master Yngwie Malmsteen metal god guitarists make things with less soul than some 25 year old garage band guys. Amazing and capable directors who make innovative films that you’d never watch more than once. Most people’s favorite singer isn’t the one they think of as the technical best. etc

          • Machine Interface says:

            I’m not getting rid of people’s ability to like things over arbitrary, personal reasons. I’m just getting rid of the rationalization of that behavior.

    • Plumber says:

      @johan_larson says:

      “You are invited to make a small change to the popular culture of your nation or region…”

      Raise the age in which one may drive, lower the drinking age or raise the voting age, have American political parties give out beer and/or whiskey again (like they did before prohibition) when new voters sign up, with a brass band and cheers for the new Democrats/Republicans/Federalists/Whigs/et cetera.

    • johan_larson says:

      I’m going to commit Canadian sacrilege and replace our national sport, hockey. Between protective equipment and ice time it’s just too darn expensive, and the NHL is just not willing to let enough franchises open in our major cities. So it must go.

      Replacing it as a year-round team sport will be basketball. Those who want a winter sport can go cross-country skiing and those who want to get their fight on can do BJJ. Those who want it more hardcore than BJJ are welcome to take up jousting.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      Switch the USA to the metric system.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I was going to propose to replace the name “negative” with “positive” for the electric charge of an electron.

      However, upon further research, I’m less sure this is wise.

      So now I propose replacing both “negative” and “positive” with “sourceward” and “carrywise”, as appropriate by context. Or maybe something freer of connotations, like “floydward” and “gongward”.

      • John Schilling says:

        Please. Forward and backward bernstonish lading, or be damned as a prissy Frenchman.

      • Shion Arita says:

        From a chemistry sense it definitely is backwards, since the charges are referring to added or removed electrons on a molecular entity. It would definitely make sense for the (+) charge to denote added electrons and the (-) charge to denote electrons removed, rather than the other way around.

    • Randy M says:

      Kids play out doors with each other like we did growing up.
      In this case, region might just mean “city block”, but still.

      • Plumber says:

        @Randy M,
        I still see kids walking to and from school in the little suburb I moved to, but I don’t see the elaborate “hide and seek” and “tag” games where we’d climb neighborhood fences (and quickly climb out when there’s a dog!) like we had in the ’70’s, but I don’t think many adults saw what we were up to back then either.

        • Randy M says:

          Maybe it’s the difference between homes and apartments. But it was very common when I was young to play touch football, soccer, or even baseball on the streets. We tore up the front yard with action figure combat.
          Now, I frequently walk along our sidewalks for exercise with my daughters and only occasionally see another child for more than a moment.

          • Plumber says:

            @Randy M
            You’re right about that, I remember throwing “footballs” around on the street was very common, I still see that sometimes, but usually a Dad is with the kids which I don’t remember happening back then.

    • AG says:

      Replace base 10 with base 12. (Two extra characters for 11 and 12 will be created, so any griping about ease of calculation/place value won’t exist.)

      • cassander says:

        this is my favorite answer.

      • Aftagley says:

        Replace base 10 with base 12.

        I get base 8 or base 16, but what benefit do we get out of base 12? Is this just to help out the Polydactylys among us?

        • Enkidum says:

          Because all numbers that could potentially be factors of 12 are (i.e. everything up to 12/2), except 5. Makes a lot of operations just kind of happen.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Not sure if you’re aware, but duodecimal already has symbols for 10 and 11.

        The Pitman digits for ten and eleven look like an upside down two and a backwards three. They’re in Unicode, although unfortunately I can’t paste them here. As a practical alternative some people use X and E as replacements.

        So the first twelve numbers would be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, X, E, and 10.

    • lvlln says:

      Replace American football with ultimate Frisbee.

      Make meditation and Brazilian jujitsu a standard/mandatory part of public school curriculum, beginning at 1st grade.

      Make pre-assigned/pre-selected seats the default standard for movie theaters.

      Outlaw tipping, under punishment of death. For the person giving the tip, the person receiving the tip, and the owner of the establishment where the tip was given.

      Have subway stations and subway cars be the cleanest parts of any city rather than the opposite.

      • Aftagley says:

        Make meditation and Brazilian jujitsu a standard/mandatory part of public school curriculum, beginning at 1st grade.

        I know you don’t mean they’d be doing both at the same time, but I kinda like the mental image of 8 year olds trying to achieve inner peace while getting a pressure point manipulated.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Replace American football with ultimate Frisbee.

        I don’t know how you rewrite the rules for ultimate without having it turn into team golf.

        • matthewravery says:

          I don’t think you’ve ever seen professional Ultimate before. It looks, sounds, and feels nothing like golf.

          Also, there are already multiple varieties of “team golf”, be it tournaments with a Scramble format or the Ryder Cup.

        • lvlln says:

          I don’t know how you rewrite the rules for ultimate without having it turn into team golf.

          I’m not sure what you mean. Ultimate as it’s currently played doesn’t look anything like team golf, unless you mean that throwing the disc to your teammate who’s running into the end zone looks a lot like someone hitting a golf ball into a hole. But the more obvious close analogue would be a quarterback throwing a football at a wide receiver who’s running into the end zone (esp since most current semi-pro ultimate games take place on standard 100-yard American football fields).

          • baconbits9 says:

            Its not an analog to football because football has a hundred other things that allow that play to happen.

          • lvlln says:

            Its not an analog to football because football has a hundred other things that allow that play to happen.

            What do you mean by hundred other things? In ultimate, there are also many other things that allow the play to happen, such as the thrower stepping around his defender, the receiver making a cut with a good fake that allows him to gain separation from his defender, and their 5 other teammates (standard ultimate being 7 on 7) moving out of the way so that their defenders don’t interrupt the play. I don’t know how that compares to American football’s 11 on 11 with all the defensive linemen pushing away offensive linemen while receivers run their routes and such, but overall those plays seem similar.

            I mean, when ultimate is described to people who don’t know the sport, the most common way is to say that it’s a combination of American football, soccer, and basketball, with American football being the closest relative.

            EDIT: Here’s a short ~2 minute example of a “throw the disc to your teammate who’s running into the end zone” play, with some minor analysis of how the play came about. I’m guessing a typical American football passing play is more complicated, but I think they’re fundamentally fairly similar.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Ultimate frisbee is, to me, more similar to soccer than to any other professional sport. Or arguably women’s lacrosse.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’m guessing a typical American football passing play is more complicated, but I think they’re fundamentally fairly similar.

            American football is highly variable, the amount of time that a QB has to make a throw on a play is not known going in because it depends on what scheme the defense is using and how well his blockers hold up. Every play then includes potential fakes on both sides, and the potential for dozens of mistakes within the same play. These can be used to level the athletic difference between top receivers and top defenders, as near zero defenders can match up against the top receivers for more than a couple of seconds. Frisbee (at higher levels) lacks this dynamic of being able to prevent a top receiver with a complicated defensive scheme that allows you to attack the thrower for a variety of reasons (absent a few weather related situations).

            Ultimate frisbee is, to me, more similar to soccer than to any other professional sport. Or arguably women’s lacrosse

            Frisbee has a lot of the elements of soccer, but without the extreme skill needed to score. Frisbee ends up like a soccer/basketball hybrid where the flow on the field has similarities to soccer, but the scoring is at a rate closer to basketball. Outside of extreme weather conditions you aren’t going to get 1-0, or even 4-3 games in frisbee.

            A lot of these elements are what makes it (imo) way more fun to play as a player, but less interesting as a professional level sport.

          • lvlln says:

            American football is highly variable, the amount of time that a QB has to make a throw on a play is not known going in because it depends on what scheme the defense is using and how well his blockers hold up.

            This is true of ultimate too, though. Of course, there’s the hard time limit of 10 seconds for any given thrower, but depending on what sort of scheme the defense is using and how good the offense is at adjusting to it, whoever is holding the disc could conceivably have anywhere between 1 and 9 seconds to get rid of the disc before the defense clamps down and leaves only bad options.

            Every play then includes potential fakes on both sides, and the potential for dozens of mistakes within the same play.

            This is also true of ultimate. Faking, both for throwers and receivers, is a basic fundamental skill in ultimate that’s used basically continually. Same with the potential for dozens of mistakes, by any of the 14 players on the field.

            Frisbee (at higher levels) lacks this dynamic of being able to prevent a top receiver with a complicated defensive scheme that allows you to attack the thrower for a variety of reasons (absent a few weather related situations).

            This isn’t true, though. At the top levels (i.e. USAU club or international national-team play between a handful of countries (USA, Canada, Japan, UK, Columbia for women)), top receivers do get prevented from dominating, through defensive schemes. Usually not as complicated as how you describe football, but a good defensive scheme centered around preventing handlers from getting easy long throw looks and protecting the deep space allows one to stop a top receiver. Obviously not perfectly – a top receiver, by definition, is really good at receiving and is thus able to succeed sometimes even when teams plan schemes around them, but this is true in football too. It’s not as if having a top receiver on the opposite team means that you might as well give up on the point; top receivers are hard to stop, but they do get stopped regularly at the top levels of the sport.

            But getting back to the point, you still haven’t explained what you mean by it turning into team golf.

          • Ultimate frisbee is, to me

            Isn’t that the version played with circular saw blades?

          • acymetric says:

            A hammer gone wrong can certainly feel that way.

          • baconbits9 says:

            This is true of ultimate too, though. Of course, there’s the hard time limit of 10 seconds for any given thrower, but depending on what sort of scheme the defense is using and how good the offense is at adjusting to it, whoever is holding the disc could conceivably have anywhere between 1 and 9 seconds to get rid of the disc before the defense clamps down and leaves only bad options.

            These aren’t the same thing, a play in football can end at any point in time by the defense forcing it, in ultimate the offense always has the full 10 seconds if they choose. This is a clear distinction for defensive tactics and the ability of the defense to (possibly) dictate pace.

            This isn’t true, though. At the top levels (i.e. USAU club or international national-team play between a handful of countries (USA, Canada, Japan, UK, Columbia for women)), top receivers do get prevented from dominating, through defensive schemes. Usually

            The all time record in the NFL for receiving TDs is 23 in a 16 game season. The all time record for a single game in the AUDL (just to pick one league) is 22 scores- and these guys aren’t anywhere near peak athletic potential.

          • acymetric says:

            I don’t think the argument was ever “Ultimate is exactly like football” just that Ultimate is more like football than it is like golf.

            As others have noted, it is probably more like soccer or lacrosse than either. Obviously defense in ultimate is different than defense in football.

            It isn’t very clear what point you are trying to make. Would you like to just go ahead and make it?

          • lvlln says:

            These aren’t the same thing, a play in football can end at any point in time by the defense forcing it, in ultimate the offense always has the full 10 seconds if they choose. This is a clear distinction for defensive tactics and the ability of the defense to (possibly) dictate pace.

            Yes, ultimate and American football are different sports with different rules that result in different defensive (and offensive) tactics being effective and employed. This doesn’t change the fact that there are broad similarities between the sports as it comes to the flow of the game, much like how soccer and ice hockey are different sports with different rules that result in different defensive tactics being effective and employed, while still having broad similarities when it comes to how the games flow.

            And this is the 3rd time I’m asking this, with you not having even acknowledged the question the 1st 2 times: how do you envision ultimate as being more similar to team golf than American football? Again, there are plenty of differences between American football and ultimate, but whatever those differences might be, the differences between team golf and ultimate seem far greater.

            The all time record in the NFL for receiving TDs is 23 in a 16 game season. The all time record for a single game in the AUDL (just to pick one league) is 22 scores- and these guys aren’t anywhere near peak athletic potential.

            Yes, ultimate and American football are different sports with different rules that result in different scoring patterns. A typical AUDL game has around 30-50 total scores by both teams, while a typical NFL game has around 6-15 total scores by both teams (taking the average score of ~43 points and dividing by 3 for field goals or 7 for touchdowns + extra points). Ultimate is a sport that favors offense far more than American football does, from what I can tell (also in the AUDL they use 80 yard fields with 20 yard end zones rather than 100 & 10, which obviously helps the offense).

            None of this changes the fact that in ultimate defenses do regularly shut down dominant receivers. It’s just that the standards of shutting down someone is different in ultimate compared to American football, much like how a 45% success rate would make one a top-tier batter in the MLB but a pretty mediocre quarterback in the NFL.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It isn’t very clear what point you are trying to make. Would you like to just go ahead and make it?

            Sure. Ultimate has a skill level issue at high levels. You can flat out do more throwing a frisbee than you can with a football, and it is a lot easier to catch a frisbee than a football, and the rules of ultimate favor offensive play as it is. As levels get higher these things matter more, there are levels of precision that a handler can have that pretty much negates defense.

            An example: Last night I played pickup and my best throw to a 50+ year old woman who plays a couple of times a month and who was being guarded by a 25 year old woman who is quite a bit faster than the receiver. The defender played under and I curled about a 30 yard flick around her and to the receiver. A passable (some would dispute that I rise to that level) pick up handler can negate a defender who has a large edge in speed/athleticism, if I could make a throw that well almost every time, a not unreasonable prospect at all for decent players, then I could force bracket coverage on the open side for my best receiver every time, or nearly guarantee yards. If I am then quick enough to get an open dump/swing/upline pass from that receiver we can do it again and again. If I have a high quality break throw, like a hammer, the two of us could beat 3 defenders semi regularly.

            This is not an uncommon issue with sports, and often their are rule changes that favor the defense quite heavily to counteract these. In soccer one guy gets to also use his hands* but only on defense, in american football cornerbacks can physically jam/push receivers in a narrow band and defenders are allowed to literally tackle the passer if they can get there before he throws it.

            *yes also throw ins.

          • lvlln says:

            Sure. Ultimate has a skill level issue at high levels. You can flat out do more throwing a frisbee than you can with a football, and it is a lot easier to catch a frisbee than a football, and the rules of ultimate favor offensive play as it is. As levels get higher these things matter more, there are levels of precision that a handler can have that pretty much negates defense.

            This is a real issue, but handlers can’t negate a defense. At the top levels, because everyone is so good at throwing and catching, the structure of the game becomes more like high-level tennis, where the person who’s serving is expected to win every point, and the victor is determined by who can get more breaks. In ultimate, the team that’s receiving the pull is expected to win every point, and the victor is determined by whichever team can get more break-points. In 2016, in the USAU men’s finals game between Boston and San Francisco, there were a grand total of 7 turnovers in a total of 27 points, just 5 of those being break-points (14-13 final score) – this is unusually low, but not by that much.

            Of course, we would expect offensive players to get better if they’re given $millions and full time to train, which could translate to more offensive dominance which would be boring, but interestingly enough, this hasn’t been the case over the past ~20 years which has seen a lot more athleticism and talent going into ultimate. A large part of it is that you also get more athletic defenders as well as a continuing evolution of defensive sets. You almost never see elite ultimate teams go with straight person-person defense these days, because that only really works if you have a clear athletic advantage over the other team (which is almost never the case, since athleticism tends to be fairly evenly distributed at that level). That doesn’t mean they tend to go with zone unless it’s windy/rainy, though; rather, teams have systems of switching and poaching in order to increase effectiveness beyond just the straight person-person defensive sets.

            And of course, there’s plenty of evolution that could happen to offensive strategy as well, to negate the advantages gained by evolution of defensive strategy. So ultimately, it’s hard to say how the game would evolve if all the players were NFL-level athletic and with NFL-level investment in strategy, but I don’t think it’s clear that it would just become all offense all the time. That hasn’t been the trend as the elite levels have become more athletic (I believe it’s slightly been the opposite, actually, where back in the early 2000s, # of turnovers in elite level games were lower than they are now).

        • John Schilling says:

          I don’t know how you rewrite the rules for ultimate without having it turn into team golf.

          “Frisbee golf” or “Disc Golf” is a thing, but it is distinct from Ultimate in every way except being a sport involving frisbee/disc-things. Are you getting the two confused?

          As others have noted, Ultimate maps pretty closely to soccer or lacrosse or field hockey but with discs. It completely fails to match the defining feature of golf, which is that only one player at a time is trying to do anything and nobody else may try to stop or hinder or even distract them. So I’m not seeing how you expect a formalization of Ultimate to become “team golf”.

          For that matter, I’m not sure what you envision as “team golf”. Boring regular golf but using the combined scores of multiple players? Or do we have one offensive player trying to hit the ball into the hole while ten offensive blockers with long metal clubs try to stop ten defensive player with clubs from beating him to a pulp first, and a holetender with a club tries to swat the ball out of the sky before it reaches the hole?

          • lvlln says:

            Or do we have one offensive player trying to hit the ball into the hole while ten offensive blockers with long metal clubs try to stop ten defensive player with clubs from beating him to a pulp first, and a holetender with a club tries to swat the ball out of the sky before it reaches the hole?

            I changed my mind. Replace American football with that, whatever we decide to call that sport.

          • woah77 says:

            This sounds like it should be called “Sportsball” and be primarily played by veteran Marines.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @woah77

            I am now a Sportsball fan.

          • woah77 says:

            @EchoChaos

            I am not a sportsball fan, but I’d at least have a real sport to go with my joke about how I don’t follow sportsball. I generically call all sports “sportsball” in common parlance, much to the amusement of my coworkers. Conversations typically go something like this:

            “Did you catch the bears game last night?”
            “Ah, no. I don’t actually follow the sportsball.”

          • bullseye says:

            I am not a sportsball fan, but I’d at least have a real sport to go with my joke about how I don’t follow sportsball.

            Wouldn’t that ruin the joke? I thought the point of saying “sportsball” was to pretend that you’re so ignorant of sports you can’t even name one.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I’d like adults to go to the movies more – maybe once a week on average. There’s no one activity I want to disprivelege to make room for this – just a little less of everything else.

      Maybe that way it would be easier to get good quality mid-budget films made again.

    • georgeherold says:

      I’d like to encourage drivers to be more courteous on the road. To this end I propose the A-hole gun. Every driver gets an A-hole gun with one shot per year, with which they can tag another driver. If a driver gets (say) ten tags in a year they are fined (say) $1,000, which goes to pay for the A-hole gun program.

    • Hoopdawg says:

      Replace the writing system with Japanese-like system of ideographic stem plus phonetic inflection/disambiguation (with phonemes grouped into syllables a’la Hangul).

      Smaller change: make all sports adopt association football league rules (get rid of play-offs, award championship to regular season winners; fans of knockout tournaments get a separate “cup” competition; mandatory promotion/relegation system).

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      Useful pockets on all pants and jackets are seen as highly fashionable and thus sewn into all clothing. I’ve heard complaints about lack of pockets from approximately every one of my female friends, and on occasions when my clothes don’t have pockets I feel their pain.

      • DinoNerd says:

        Yes please!

        Also, wearing cell phones etc. in belt holsters becomes normal, even fashionable, for both genders, rather than geekish, and cell phones routinely come with appropriate holsters – in a range of fashionable colours and styles.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          A friend of mine in high school made a leather holster for his graphing calculator. It was amazing.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          When walking I invariably swing my arms in a way that knocks off and breaks all of those elastic belt-clip lanyards that are used for badges, and would invariably do the same for a cell phone holster (I briefly tried with a cell phone holster).

          Placing the holster further forward interferes with bathroom usage, placing it further back interferes with sitting. At least with the typical belt-loop layouts.

          My current pants (Dickies) all come with a cell phone pocket (or two) on the right leg below the knee. And I love it.

      • Lambert says:

        Yes. Give women pockets and men manbags.

        (for blokes who want to carry a lot without a rucksack, i’d recommend getting a bike and some orillieb panniers with a shoulder strap. It’s like a 20l handbag which is completely waterproof.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          We have a solution. They are called cargo pants. Everyone “cool” hates cargo pants.

          • Lambert says:

            There’s still a gap in the 10-20l range that manbags would fill nicely.
            For spare shirts, 1st aid kits, water bottles, welding gauntlets, scrolls, folding umbrellas, shoes, binoculars, small orchids etc.

          • quanta413 says:

            Aren’t laptop bags fine for filling the lower end of that range? I see men carrying those. You don’t have to put laptops in them.

            welding gauntlets…

            Gauntlets but no torch?

    • noyann says:

      Not exactly culture but law, but will affect culture bigly, I guess. Parts possibly exist in some countries.

      Change Copyright to
      – Automatic registration on publication
      – Duration 15* years
      – Can be prolonged for another 15* years for a small fee but requires holder activity
      – No further prolongation under any circumstance
      – Gratuitous fair use, no permission required

      *The exact number is open to debate.

      And for security culture:
      – Make all hacking and research on computer security legal. Illegality starts when harm is done with intention, e.g. results are used for damage instead of vulnerability warnings.

    • noyann says:

      Coffee shops, dutch version. Legal drugs.

      Together with school education on hacking your brain and body (how, results, dangers, damages — a bit like sex ed has become the norm in more enlightened countries).

      Plus physician and therapist certifications and reimbursement rates for this new domain covering expert advice as well as treatment/prevention of the downsides it will inevitably also have.

  26. Liam Breathnach says:

    Why would you re-watch a film that you thought at the time was nothing special? I’m curious because other people also do this. (leaving aside that it exceeded expectations the second time). It’s more of a general question than specific to you or this film.

    • Eri says:

      Well, if I know that I have changed over time enough to see some things showed in the film in a different way, it is often a good idea. Same applies to books; though it is not uncommon that I get disappointed in a piece of literature I enjoyed before, vice versa also happens.

      Additionally, if someone I know recommends me something I didn’t like before, and provides new insight into how they perceived the book/film, that often sparks enough interest in me to take a second look.

      But that’s a very general question, and I can’t say more without knowing the context. For example, are you interested in fiction or non-fiction movies in this question?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Can you watch English language films? If so, watching Shakespeare is probably easier than reading. Trying a clip on youtube is easy.

        • Eri says:

          Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of audio/video format in general, since I have some troubles with grasping audio even if it’s not a foreign language. Reading is so much easier for me.

          I appreciate the suggestion, though.

    • Machine Interface says:

      With some movies that on first viewing seemed just ok, as time passes I get a weird feeling that the movie is more enjoyable than I clearly remember it to be (it’s often fueled by watching eg youtube videos analyzing various aspect of that film), and so I rewatch it to see if really it has grown on me. Doesn’t happen all that often though.

      And in a more general fashion I am trying to make a habit of rewatching stuff that I remember liking but that I haven’t watched in a while, to reassess whether I still like it as much, less than before, or more than before (I found this necessary as it turns out my tastes are rapidly evolving).

    • johan_larson says:

      Maybe it’s a really respected work that didn’t impress you the first time around, and you’re rewatching it either to give it another chance or to figure out what others see in it.

      I’m occasionally tempted to give Shakespeare another chance.

      • Eri says:

        I’ve read a lot of Shakespeare in middle school in translation to my native language and enjoyed it a lot. More than that, I have never heard outside of English-speaking communities anyone who would talk about Shakespeare as of something “hard”. Classical, yes, but quite easy to read. I feel like many native English speakers miss the beauty of his works because of the language difficulties, which are not that problematic in translations, and that adds a rather strange side to the whole story.
        I’m occasionally tempted to try to read him in original, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to get through such a text.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Johan, watch film versions of Shakespeare plays. Start with Kenneth Branaugh’s Henry and Hamlet.

        • Tarpitz says:

          NO! NOOOOO!!!!!! Don’t start with Ken Bloody Branagh! Don’t end with Ken Branagh! Don’t go near Ken Branagh! Horrible old ham.

          Joss Whedon’s Much Ado is pretty good, and features a stellar performance from Amy Acker as Beatrice.

          Under no circumstances watch the Ethan Hawke Hamlet.

          If you can stomach a black and white recording of a stage production, I believe Richard Burton’s Hamlet is all on YouTube and is pretty incredible.

          • Machine Interface says:

            My picks would be Lawrence Oliver’s Hamlet and Kurowasa’s Throne of Blood (which is MacBeth in feodal Japan — obviously you lose the original text but it’s still one of the best Shakespeare-based movies). I heard very good things about the 2015 adaptation of MacBeth but haven’t watched it yet.

          • smocc says:

            Branagh’s Much Ado and Henry V are excellent, his Hamlet and As You Like It are weird and bad.

            I will fight anyone on any one of those opinions.

          • Fitzroy says:

            Trevor Nunn’s Othello is superb. Willard White and Sir Ian McKellen in the lead roles.

          • Enkidum says:

            Branagh is great.

            Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet is much better than it has any right to be, largely because its Mercutio is one of the best that’s ever been filmed.

          • AG says:

            Man, Branagh’s Much Ado is basically ruined by its camerawork. Benedick and Beatrice are rarely on screen together, and then Beatrice’s big monologue has some of the worst blocking ever, despite good work by Emma Thompson. Whedon’s version makes the story accessible to the layman.

            Zeferelli’s Romeo and Juliet is pretty great. There’s Mckellan’s Richard III, too. BBC’s recent King Lear, featuring Anthony “Hannibal Lecter” Hopkins and Emma Thompson, was Emmy nominated.

            Of course, if we include indirect adaptations like Throne of Blood, then we obviously have to include West Side Story, Kiss Me Kate, 10 Things I Hate About You, Curse of the Golden Flower, She’s the Man, etc.

            Honestly, though, you could do worse than attending the Shakespeare in the Park performances every year, since they provide synopses and the audience reaction will help guide your interpretation, and those productions are also doing their best to make the story accessible to laymen.

        • spkaca says:

          Also Ian McKellen’s Richard III. Great stuff, plenty of explosions, which Shakespeare usually sadly lacks.

    • Urstoff says:

      Boredom. Although that’s something that is sorely missing these days.

      • acymetric says:

        Boredom is part of it, but also desire for variety. I don’t only listen to my favorite song either, or just my favorite song by each band I like. Sometimes I’ll listen to one of the songs I liked least on an album I otherwise liked just because I haven’t heard it in a while.

        I also don’t only eat my favorite foods. Sometimes I eat very average foods (or worse).

    • Liam Breathnach says:

      @Eri
      The context was MachineInterface rewatching Fury Road after not loving it first time around.

      @MachineInterface
      Film analysis is isn’t something I do (do a lot of people do this?), but coincidentally I did so last week for the first time with The Shining: analysis was a mixture of pointing out Kubrick’s subtleness, and some dubious speculation by the analyst.

      @johan_larson
      This makes sense, except I’ve mainly done it with books. Eg The Name of the Rose, Catch 22 were hard to get into but a second attempt paid off.
      I first did Julius Caesar at 14-15 in school and was bored. Did Macbeth at 17-18 and thought it was great. I don’t know what that implies. Maybe try one of the filmed versions.

      @Urstoff
      I suspect this is the main reason.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I sometimes just want to zone out in front of something I don’t really have to engage with, especially if I’m tired and/or drunk. Mediocre lowbrow films I’ve already seen are a strong candidate.

      If I’m rewatching a mediocre arty film, it’s more likely to be for professional reasons (considering working with someone involved). Alternatively, someone I respect might have convinced me to give it a second chance in the hope of changing my mind about it (one notable example for me was Juno, which I disliked on first viewing and now very much enjoy).

    • mdet says:

      Another possibility is just watching movies with friends. Depending on the movie, watching it with friends can be an easy way to turn it from mediocre to great. Comedies are probably the most susceptible to this.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Never trust an opinion about a bit of art you made over 5 years ago, as a general principle. Aside from the personal ways you’ve changed (or rather, are not obligated to be consistent with past notion of self) the conditions of the world change, alliances in society churn and shift, in ways that give things different resonances just a few years apart. You can start to become fascinated by the meta-trends you realize, as well, if you try something like watching the same sorts of movies made on either side of 9/11 (or whatever phenomenon occured that changed trends.) In the movies of year 1999 it seemed like a slow descent into Hell to have a regular $50k office job in a way that seems odd in the “you don’t have to justify making money in an authentic soul-affirming way, you have to do it to survive” ethos of 2019.

      These sorts of things are interesting enough to me to want to rewatch things and have new takes

    • noyann says:

      When I was interested in the poetics of film making, the visual language, the sound effects, story arcs and sub-arcs, symbolism, citations, etc., I had a habit of letting the movie wash over me without any analyzing, thinking too much, etc the first time, and one or a few days later I rewatched, this time trying to catch the crafty/technical things I mentioned, sometimes taking scene-by-scene notes. (That was in a cinema before video tapes and a pause button came along.)

    • noyann says:

      To enjoy all the hints that only become meaningful from the ending. Example: “The usual suspects”.

  27. rubberduck says:

    How geographically aware are most people? I don’t mean that in the sense of knowing the capital of Kenya, I mean being aware of where on a globe you are and what is around you.

    Whenever I go somewhere new, I always keep a rough map in my head of the country/state I’m visiting, with the major cities marked. At home, although my memory for streets isn’t the greatest, I like to know where I generally am relative to the nearest big city and/or other landmarks, and I browse Google Maps for fun fairly often. By now I can draw a pretty good map of the USA from memory.

    Then I went to Berlin, and met some students who, despite having lived there for over a year, were completely unaware that Poland was to their east and that the border is only a ~3h drive away. This boggled me but if you think about it, knowing where borders lie is not relevant to most people’s day-to-day lives, so maybe people who aren’t into geography would have no reason to hold onto such information.

    So, am I the unusual one, or are they?

    • Lancelot says:

      Usually I’m not even aware of my immediate surroundings in that sense. I mean sure, I remember what landmarks are around me and how they are related to each other approximately, but that’s more like a graph structure of places and paths between them, rather than a coherent 2d map.

    • bullseye says:

      I’m like you, but I’ve met people who aren’t.

      I’ve lived in Cleveland for four years, and a couple of days ago I found that a coworker (who has been here at least as long) had no idea the city had a river. The river is big enough for commercial traffic, is the only reason there’s a city here, and is within a mile or two of the office.

      I once got a ride with a guy who didn’t know which way was north right in front of his apartment, and didn’t even know the name of the street he lived on.

    • Enkidum says:

      Most of the time I have a pretty good sense of the cardinal directions, but I do get tripped up every now and then, especially if I’m taking a trip with a lot of slowly-curving roads, or I’m in the woods. I’m pretty good with larger geographical stuff (knowing where I am relative to cities or other things that are put on maps). I’m definitely better than most people at this stuff, and your self-description is better than me, so I would suspect you are fairly unusual in this respect.

    • woah77 says:

      I live and breath in my sense of geography. Sure, there are places I’m less familiar with, but I keep track of my location mentally and where I am in relation to major landmarks often. I build a mental map of anywhere I go to, adding the locations into my sense of where things are.

    • John Schilling says:

      So, am I the unusual one, or are they?

      I’m with you on this, almost always aware of cardinal directions and with a pretty good mental map of my surroundings – very good in the places I live and work. But I think we are unusual, at least among cosmopolitan Blue and Grey tribe culture. Cities, and the norms of urban civility, are designed to make geography as irrelevant as possible to their interchangeable residents, and with GPS and Uber as crutches I too am finding it increasingly common to find people of incredible geographic cluelessness.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Cities, and the norms of urban civility, are designed to make geography as irrelevant as possible to their interchangeable residents

        Manhattan is a major exception here, with uptown, downtown, east side, west side all being very prominent.

      • Aftagley says:

        Cities, and the norms of urban civility, are designed to make geography as irrelevant as possible to their interchangeable residents, and with GPS and Uber as crutches I too am finding it increasingly common to find people of incredible geographic cluelessness.

        Is this the case?

        I’ve lived in 3 major cities now and every single one of them had distinctive neighborhoods; maybe a tourist wouldn’t pick up on it, but anyone living there more than 2 months would.

        Take Seattle – Fremont feels different from Pioneer Square which feels different than the waterfront, which feels different than greenlake… That’s probably the bluest/greyest cities I’ve ever been and I found the geographic separations there incredibly noticeable.

        • John Schilling says:

          Fremont feels different from Pioneer Square which feels different than the waterfront, which feels different than greenlake…

          Does it matter whether Freemont is North, South, East, or West of Pioneer square, when you’re just going to call an Uber and say “Take me to Pioneer square”?

          • Aftagley says:

            Hmmm, good point. I honestly don’t know.

            ETA: if it “matters” I mean. Fremont is obviously north of pioneer square.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Staggering geographical ignorance isn’t uncommon.

      I knew a young woman in college who sincerely believed that Egypt was a US state. And it’s not like she was some sheltered American, she had lived much of her life in Dubai. Egypt was physically closer to her than either her home country or America were.

      That’s a somewhat extreme example, but for most people it seems like other countries might as well be located on the moon. Which would have been a reasonable attitude for a peasant farmer a few centuries ago but is a bit silly now that a trip to the other side of the world can be completed in less than a single day and we are in constant nearly-instantaneous communication with people all across the globe.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I have a friend who went to an academically excellent private school, read Maths and ComSci at Oxford, and subsequently went on first to found and run a successful indie games company for over a decade then to become the CTO of a medical technology business. He is neither stupid nor educationally deprived.

        In our early 20s, he was surprised to discover that Cuba was not in Eastern Europe.

        At roughly the same time, he had to ask me which way to get on the motorway to get from Oxford to London (as in northbound or southbound). He had lived in or near Oxford his entire life. London is 50 miles away.

        • noyann says:

          > Cuba was not in Eastern Europe

          Somewhat plausible that he only ever heard it mention as part of the “Eastern Bloc”, and/or together with the USSR.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Weird mistake. Was she confused by the existence of Memphis, perhaps?

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      I bounce back and forth between New England (where I grew up) and Illinois (college). I have two different modes of navigation:

      New England cow paths: Which way’s North? Hell if I know! But to get downtown you just turn right here, right again at the tree, left up at the top of the hill…[etc]…and past the post office. Essentially it’s subway-map-style navigation: I have no idea where things are geographically, but I know exactly how to get between them.

      Midwestern grid layout: Whoa, you can just build roads at right angles to each other? This is great! As long as I keep track of which way is north, all I need is the coordinates of a location to get there! How do you get to the library? Well it’s just three blocks south and four blocks west…so you go south three blocks and west four blocks. (Or west four blocks and south three blocks.) I could probably draw a decent campus map from memory.

    • bean says:

      I’m a lot like you, but run into people who aren’t more often than not. On the micro level, I’ll give directions like “go north” and my wife will say “yes, but which way do I turn?” On the macro level, I went to the state Geography Bee twice, and studied a lot for that. But I think I’m the weird one here.

    • silver_swift says:

      There is a big discrepancy for me between large scale and small scale geography.

      I can point out most European countries on a map (for different continents I’d estimate I can get maybe 70%), but I’m completely hopeless at getting anywhere at all without a GPS and I frequently get the relative locations of nearby (<100km) towns and cities wrong.

      Edit: Telling which way is north is also hopeless unless I have some way to deduce it.

      • Elementaldex says:

        I’m with you. I’ve been to 40 countries and I can fill in a world map pretty completely (>90% of landmass certainly) but even in my home city where I have lived for a decade I need Google Maps to get anywhere I have not been repeatedly and I have to stop and think about it to figure out cardinal directions.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I had a good sense of the area I grew up in, but less of anywhere I’ve lived since. And when I simply fly into a place to visit it, I have even less sense of the surrounding area.

      Part of what changed this for me was spoken navigation directions in my vehicle – I don’t have to consult a map to go anywhere, and if my map’s on a cell phone or similar device, it’s too small to really read. Paper maps were much better for giving me a general sense of where I was – but those are so passé as to be completely unreliable for anything built in the last decade.

    • ana53294 says:

      I was born a geographical idiot, but I have been able to train myself into the common level of incompetence. I was completely unable, as a kid, to draw a map of a place I was familiar with, or give simple, clear directions. It would be like, “go straight, then you’ll see the gas station – no wait, in order to see the gas station you need to turn left from the road, go straight, and it will be on your right… you need to do this left turn before you see the roundabout with the olive tree”. Time and space were completely confusing to me. I wouldn’t get lost in a familiar place, but any new place, I would get lost.

      My brother’s geographical abilities, and my general competitive streak, meant I spent a lot of effort as a kid on doing that. But I think that geographical abilities are a type of intelligence not everybody has, and for some people, these things are much harder than for others. I am not sure how people are distributed, though.

      I find it strange that people would not be aware of a river. Most cities with rivers are divided by it, and a path that may be straight in a map could be quite longer if there aren’t many bridges. Maybe Cleveland’s river is not a geographic obstacle?

      In my head, when I walk in a city with a river, the river serves as the axis of reference; you need to keep in mind on which side of the river you are, where you want to go, and which bridge is closest. And, if I am in an unfamiliar place in the city, once I find the river, I’m not lost anymore; I just walk up or downstream until I have to go to my destination.

      It may be because people walk less now? Walking in a city is the perfect speed to learn it well. It also makes you more aware of features like hills.

      • bullseye says:

        Downtown is all east of the river, so if you don’t live or work on the west side I guess there’s no reason to go there.

    • Rana Dexsin says:

      When in my home city, I tend to be oriented to approximate cardinal directions based on the street directions, and have a rough idea of where I am in the city; in neighborhoods I know better, I have a clearer idea still, and in neighborhoods I know less well I still generally know which major roads are nearby and in which directions. I don’t travel “linearly” (that is, with navigation exposed to me via driving or similar, as opposed to planes or other mass transit which is scheduled point-to-point and where I ignore almost the entire route being taken) outside my city well enough to have a map of the surrounding area except for a vague understanding of where some suburbs are. I have a very rough idea of where my city is in my state, and I know very well where my state is in the US, and where the US is in the world, but I couldn’t draw accurate country-level maps of many other places in the world except for some big prominent ones; I’d be slightly better at a map of US states, but I’d still get confused on some of the weirder clusters.

      When traveling, I try to keep an approximate mental map of the local places I’m visiting, including cardinal directions. Usually this is a very small map, because my travel is usually for specific events which strongly incentivize staying nearby the whole time. Excursions (via taxi or similar) to “random” other spots in destination cities are rare due to logistics and often don’t get their map information retained.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I read this as asking if we have a sense of direction. I do. It’s highly dependent to time, which I think is understandable: I know where things are in space based on my memory of the time of day and how the sunlight shone on them. Which means my sense is retarded when navigating at night or when it’s cloudy. Also, new locations where the roads often wind around hills are challenging.

      Put me in a certain place for long enough, however, and the sun will come out and I will get a fix on things. A map helps. I live in Columbia, Maryland; I feel aware of Catonsville, Elkridge, and Baltimore to my northeast, with Aberdeen, Havre de Grace, Philly, and NYC far beyond; Laurel, Silver Spring, Bethesda, and DC to my southwest; Greenbelt, College Park to my south; Bowie, Davidsonville, and Annapolis to my southeast; Olney, Rockville, and “Germanthersburg” to my west.

      These are in my mind as both nodes on a graph, whose edges are named roads, and also as regions on a continuous surface: if I could fly a plane or helicopter, I could easily transit between them, and if I saw smoke in the distance, I could tell you which town it’s near.

      Meanwhile, I can probably label every country in the world, and in many cases give a rough location (and name) of its capital, though admittedly this is mostly due to my trivia drive.

      My reliance on the “nodes on a graph” model is strongest wherever I rely on public transit, e.g. DC Metro. Especially if most of it’s underground, understandably. But I’ve driven in DC enough that it’s only supplementary even there. I imagine people who rely solely on public transit will most likely let their direction sense atrophy. In order of stronger direction sense comes people who commute in the city or suburbs, people who day hike, people who live in the country, people who work in delivery service, people who backpack and hike cross country.

    • DragonMilk says:

      There have been studies done on the differences men and women have in getting from point A to point B.

      So were these students female or male? 😀

      • rubberduck says:

        Yeah, I heard about that study too- about how men prefer cardinal directions while women prefer landmarks, iirc. It’s not quite what I have in mind, though; I’m talking about imagining a larger-scale map of the area, not necessarily being able to point north relative to where you’re standing. (I personally can’t point north without pausing and thinking it through, I wish my brain were more male in that regard.)

        I don’t remember the gender composition of the students.

        • DragonMilk says:

          I like to think I have excellent cardinal directions – so long as I’m in a rectangular grid and haven’t been spun around.

          For two years I thought the street in front of my office window was 90 degrees off from what it actually was, and only realized this when I pointed a coworker to the wrong direction multiple times for a food truck.

          In college, I managed to do a 180 and start jogging away from campus after running after a deer in the woods.

          So I need to get my bearings first, and deliberately take a look at where I am now. Games like EU4 help immensely with geography though (like apparently Taiwan is really close to the Philippines and the backup plan for the nationalists back in the day was to go there if Taiwan fell)

    • Viliam says:

      If I had to show cities in my country on a map, I could probably place correctly less than ten. I know which countries are next to mine, and which direction they are; and I could also point in a direction of Germany or Russia. I don’t like traveling, so more detailed information is emotionally irrelevant to me.

      On the other hand, if we go on a vacation somewhere, I usually take a map and try to learn the shape of the city. It is easier because it is new, and because it is relevant to what we will do in the following days.

  28. Papillon says:

    10 months ago I became an NPC. That’s the best and most intrigue-worthy way I can describe it, and I’m desperate for intrigue here. My experience of the world became much less intense; my anxiety and intrusive thoughts vanished. I no longer spoke to myself; nothing made any mental impression. I may have lost a little intellect.
    Initially, I considered suicide, but not in the upset way that I sometimes had before. It was totally dispassionate; I wasn’t sure that my new mode of living was worth it. I’ve since stopped having those thoughts, but for a terrifying reason: I’m struggling to remember what my experience of the world used to be like. I’m posting because I’m desperate, and I want (literally any) guesses about what happened or how to go back. I’ll provide some information and my personal hypotheses:
    -I’m 21, male.
    -In the preceding months I had been, for the first time, experimenting with chemicals I knew about from the internet. These were: Minoxidil (for a beard), expired accutane pills (for acne), and ashwagandha (for anxiety). I stopped taking / applying all of them when I started to notice the change.
    -Seven months prior I had become a vegan, one month prior I quit.
    Hypotheses:
    1. Everyone leaves the “infinity of youth” eventually (“the first twenty years are the longest half of your life” and such). I just happened to be a rare case in which the change is sharp, not gradual. [But how often does ageing cure anxiety?]
    2. The expired accutane pills severely damaged my brain. I’ve gone through basically every internet-post on expired accutane, and while only one person has had reported severe effects, they were life-changingly bad, and accutane is a serious drug.
    3. Two or more of the chemicals interacted in some way.
    I understand this isn’t an ordinary post / it probably violates some rule / I’m not very rational. Nonetheless, I’d very much appreciate some input from the smartest community I know.

    • Lancelot says:

      Have you considered consulting with a psychiatrist? What about doing some kind of a brain scan to check for something like a silent stroke?

      1. Everyone leaves the “infinity of youth” eventually (“the first twenty years are the longest half of your life” and such). I just happened to be a rare case in which the change is sharp, not gradual. [But how often does ageing cure anxiety?]

      I don’t think your experience is normal as you describe it.

    • Phigment says:

      I can’t really speak for the rest of it, but aging can absolutely cure anxiety.

      Teenagers are a mess of conflicting hormones and rapidly changing bodily subsystems, and that screws with your mental state. When I got older, I got better adjusted.

      I can also speak somewhat to the “lost a little intellect” bit.

      When I was a young to mid-teen, I was, at the risk of sounding immodest, pretty sharp. As in I read several books a day most days, had a literally photographic memory, and was strolling my way through school with good grades effortlessly.

      I was also kind of a wreck; I was unhappy almost all of the time, I worried constantly, and was low-key suicidal pretty regularly. Never made a very serious attempt; only things on the order of “this is a hot day, I could just stay in this car with the windows up until I cooked” level, but lots of passive suicidal ideation.

      One day, in the midst of some stuff, it was like my brain suddenly popped and shifted gears. It was almost that sudden, honestly. Pretty rapidly, most of my anxiety vanished, the suicidal thoughts dropped through the floor in frequency and actively repulsed me when they happened, and I also lost a fair bit of that previous mental acuity.

      Like, when I say that, I don’t mean I’m dumb now. I’m still very smart. But I can’t memorize a novel in two hours and repeat it back word-for-word, and I more gradually lost the ability to accurately transcribe novels I had previously memorized. I hit a wall in my ability to casually soak up new information without trying, and had to learn to actually study and take notes and stuff. I generally feel less sharp, in ways that are hard to quantify.

      In my personal case, I also concluded that I’m a lot happier now, and this is a total improvement in my quality of life. But it was a very weird transition, and it’s still very weird when I compare my memories of myself then to my impression of myself now. And it happened suddenly, with no particular warning or trigger I recall. I just suddenly looked around and saw all these things which had seemed important or scary before and did not care about them the same way.

      There are times when I sort of have a vague feeling like I could switch gears back, and when I get that feeling I make sure not to investigate it, because I’m better now and don’t want to be like that any more.

      I don’t know if any of that explanation is helpful to you, but it’s what I’ve got.

      As far as advice, go engage in physical activity. Go running. Lift weights. Get some sunshine. Exercise is good for the physiology. Gets all your systems firing, get the metabolism fired up, shake things loose in your brain.

      • Enkidum says:

        I remember sitting in my Grade 10 chemistry class one afternoon, and thinking to myself that I was able to remember every single individual lesson that I’d had that year.

        Now I can barely remember what happened last week.

      • OrangeInflation says:

        About what age did this happen to you? I experienced something similar between the ages of 25-28, although the change wasn’t as quick, and childbearing is a lurking variable.

        • Phigment says:

          Late teens.

        • Elementaldex says:

          I had similar experience is the ~23 – 26 age range and without the variable of childbirth. I went from several quantitative variables indicating I was >2 standard deviations above average in IQ to nothing quantitative but being clearly less.. to use OPs word: sharp. My wife had the same thing happen at 21 but hers was directly related to a head impact.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Similar experience, age 20. Hauntingly similar, I think it was in a span of a week or two that I went from incredibly stressed and depressed to “huh, who gives a damn” with a big decline in mental activity. Drugs NOT a factor, wasn’t on any drugs.

          Then things improved and I was happy, and then I had a damn near total collapse.

          I will say that though I feel less sharp, I definitely feel more structured. Teens ADBG could read a thousand books, 30s ADBG can pick out one or two important ones and pick up the important ideas (and explain them to other people).

          • Phigment says:

            It’s interesting that you say that about the books, because it tracks well with my experience.

            When I was young, I could zip through a book, and then I could repeat it back to you just about word-for-word, but I wasn’t really digesting it.

            I didn’t stop and chew things over, or analyze and appreciate them.

            Those skills are things I picked up later in life. I honestly think I enjoy reading a lot more these days, even though I’m a lot less efficient at it. I get a lot more out of reading, now that I’m not just memorizing the words and spitting them back out.

      • Papillon says:

        This was very heartening to read. Thank you.

    • James says:

      No input on the substance of your post, but you’re not violating any rules or norms by posting this here. It’s well within the kind of thing that can be discussed here.

      Actually, I vaguely remember others talking about similar things happening to them here before, though I can’t remember any details. Perhaps one of them will happen by this post. (Sorry to give such a tantalising hint without following through with any details.)

    • Paper Rat says:

      In my admittedly limited experience early twenties are the most turbulent time with regards to changing worldview. Chances are before you hit thirty you’ll go through several more paradigm shifts, some will be more noticeable than others, so don’t despair, it’s very likely you haven’t hit an end state yet (if there is one).

      As an aside, I can really relate to not being able to connect with or understand your past self, like it’s some other person (which he is to a degree). No real advice other than it’s probably smart to arrange your life around what you are currently rather than try to go back to what you used to be. If things that you liked before lost their appeal, try new stuff, you might be pleasantly surprised.

    • bullseye says:

      Aging can cure anxiety, but not that fast. I’m going to guess it was the drugs and you need to see a doctor.

    • Enkidum says:

      The anxiety and intrusive thoughts disappearing sounds good. The lack of mental impression (not really sure what that means) and loss of a stream of thought does not. And considering suicide sounds bad (not in the sense that you’re sinning or something like that, just it sounds shitty to be going through this).

      It’s good you’re recognizing that you have a problem you need help with. Whatever’s going on with you, it seems serious enough to warrant looking for solutions.

      But honestly, it sounds to me like the kind of help you need is not “let’s ask some smart people on the internet”. You need a therapist/counselor/whatever who you trust and respect enough to value their informed opinions about your mental state. Go find one, and if that one doesn’t work, find another. There is no shortcut here. Beyond providing you with some positive feedback, it’s very unlikely that anyone here can help you in any meaningful way.

      • Enkidum says:

        Beyond providing you with some positive feedback, it’s very unlikely that anyone here can help you in any meaningful way.

        It occurs to me that it’s possible that the kind of positive feedback and thoughtful responses you’re getting from, e.g., @phigment above might be all you need. In which case, good on you, and I’m glad your problem isn’t, in the grand scheme of things, that bad.

        But if that isn’t the case (and I think it isn’t, based on my very limited ability to judge based on your single post), then you need someone like Scott – I don’t mean a clever dude who writes a really good blog, I mean a mental health professional who you can pay money to help you with your brain.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        +1. Hope things work out for you, @Papillon, but you probably need a professional more than us internetians on the open thread.

    • Viliam says:

      Definitely talk with an expert. Sudden change like this is suspicious; if there is an underlying biological cause, you may want to know what it is. If this happened in 10 months, there might be more waiting in the following 10 months.

      In the meanwhile, if you meet a PC, don’t fight with them, give them a quest instead.

      > But how often does ageing cure anxiety?

      Generally, it seems the older you are the less you give f*ck about things. Various reasons: you are less dragged towards various directions by hormones; you have more to do and therefore less energy to think about things irrelevant to immediate survival; you have already seen a lot of stuff in the past and even the new stuff seems to belong to some already seen reference group.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Could be depression, could be ego death, could be discovering a new way to think. It sounds basically like my default experience, except I experience it more like not-being-an-NPC.

      As far as I can tell, most people experience their internal monologue as a sense-of-self, which is to say, they think of their internal voice as themselves. More, they think of that monologue as their “thoughts”, which is where it ties into “New way to think”.

      I don’t think in words. My thoughts are more like… linkages between concepts. This manner of thought is low-frequency and high-bandwidth; I think slower, but my thoughts are much larger, more than enough to offset the speed. My mental equivalent to a word is more like a Wikipedia article.

      Translating these thoughts into verbal form can be challenging; you lose most of the information. The advantages, primarily of being able to think clearly about things no words exist for, seem to outweigh the disadvantages.

      It is also a more conscious effort to think in terms of words, and often, but not always, requires a deliberate effort.

      If that doesn’t sound familiar to you, and you find your stream of consciousness is just missing, depression or ego death are viable alternatives. Ego death seems unlikely unless you’ve used psychotics or engaged in meditation, but I don’t think spontaneous ego death is unheard of. If ego death seems unlikely, you may be depressed. Inwhichcase I recommend outdoor activities, possibly take some vitamin D

  29. Canyon Fern says:

    A poem about the Thirst for Knowledge, formulated jointly between myself and Ludovico (my human typist and editor [and owner!]) As usual, L’s words are set in brackets.

    I’m rather fond of poetry
    But fonder of don’t-knowetry
    When something int’resting is seen
    To flash across the PC screen

    “This I must know!”
    My mind races into flight
    Ludovico,
    You’ll be staying up tonight!

    I rouse the master from his bed
    With frond-slap to his weary head
    “Go on, my man, take to your chair
    To click just when I say, and where!”

    Love for knowledge
    Nearly sets my stem alight
    Ludovico,
    You’ll be staying up tonight!

    [Oh please, my fern, I’d rather be
    Asleep in bed. Why don’t you see?
    Your ceaselessness is what keeps me
    In such benighted misery–]

    Silence, Luddy!
    No more moaning ’bout your “plight”
    Ludovico,
    You’ll be staying up tonight!

    [Now, cheeky Canyon, don’t forget
    I am your human master yet!
    Don’t dare to steal my snoozery
    Or I’ll throw you into the sea!]

    Easy, Luddy!
    Let me try to put things right
    Ludovico,
    You’ll be fast asleep tonight!

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      Absolutely brilliant.

      • Canyon Fern says:

        @thevoiceofthevoid,

        D’aww, thanks for such a strong compliment! It’s just a bit of rhyme-work and scansion, but I’m glad you liked it.

        [Now you’ve done it — the praise went straight to his fronds! -Ludovico]

        If you enjoyed my poem, you’ll probably also like my rationalist comedy fanfic, Slate Star Showdex, which stars Scott as a hard-boiled detective. Here’s the most recent episode (which links to the previous ones.)

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          Haha, I enjoyed that as well. You’ve unfortunately removed SSC comments from the list of “things I can safely read when I’m not paying attention in class without laughing out loud”–maybe fortunately, as I ought to be paying more attention in class in the first place.

  30. Yair says:

    2 months ago, in August (2019), the US convinced the Kurdish militia to dismantle their fortifications near The Turkish border as a sign of good will. Then 2 days ago the USA pulled out without warning (no one was warned, the European allies weren’t told and I suspect even the Pentagon had no idea) and now Turkish air and ground forces are attacking the Rojava Kurds.
    Here is a quote, from 2 months ago:

    “The major elements of the security mechanism now in place involve the removal of Kurdish militia fortifications, which is being done in conjunction with the Syrian Democratic Forces on the Syrian side of the border. This address the Turkish security concerns, Maier said, and demonstrates the SDF commitment to the implementation.”

    Here is a link to the document, have a read and you will understand the level of treachery involved. It boggles the mind.

    https://www.defense.gov/explore/story/Article/1964619/us-turkey-cooperate-in-defeat-isis-effort/fbclid/IwAR3goHQOJeOl_x8LXUg0TS9-lGuTOkZ4464Lz2qeT06GY964rqsZMinQHoM/

    • DragonMilk says:

      Yeah, this move makes me consider Trump too senile to lead. While the US turning on forces it supported is not new, it usually takes many years for the about face (Iraq, Taliban, etc.).

      This is an unprecedented level of backstabbing and really helps China and Russia make the case that the US is no longer a trustworthy partner.

      • Aftagley says:

        Yeah, this move makes me consider Trump too senile to lead. While the US turning on forces it supported is not new, it usually takes many years for the about face (Iraq, Taliban, etc.).

        So, relevant news articles. According to people on the call, Erdoan bullied trump into making this play, apparently. The agreed-upon talking points going into the call were to pressure Turkey to stay north of the border, but then the president apparently caved.

        For those who missed this, the president laid out talking points before the call, then apparently changed his mind during a conversation about one country invading the territory currently held by our allies. That’s nuts.

        • EchoChaos says:

          The first article also emphasizes that Trump lost Mattis over exactly this (Trump wanting to get out of Syria).

          Even if that was the going in talking point, if Erdogan offered something that made sense, Trump changing his mind is totally in character and within his stated foreign policy objectives.

          And that’s assuming the leaks are correct.

          • JPNunez says:

            I suspect the only thing Trump got is…the troops coming home. One of the articles seems to agree. Gotta say that it’s good Trump wants to diminish US military presence overseas, but maybe this wasn’t the best way or place to do it.

    • jgr314 says:

      I’m curious to hear the steelman argument in favor of the recent US withdrawal. I think it would have two components: why withdraw and why withdraw in this manner?

      FWIW, I’m personally opposed to forever wars and deployments without clear objectives. Syria was/is a mess and I couldn’t understand what the concrete, achievable objectives were. Perhaps any reduction of US presence would appear to be a local (in time and/or space) disaster?

      • blipnickels says:

        Sure:

        why withdraw

        Because Syria is a mess the US has not and probably cannot significantly improve. The biggest problem with Trump’s policy is that he isn’t actually withdrawing troops.

        why withdraw in this manner?

        Two reasons:
        First, if he contacted the proper people there would be leaks and pushback from the military. If you’re going to catch crap from powerful people for doing something, better to do it fast.
        Second, the Kurds were always going to get sold out when the US left. Turkey and the Kurds seem to view each other as existential threats; modern Turkey and Kurdistan can’t exist at the same time. And, simply put, the Turks are more valuable than the Kurds. They’re a longstanding NATO ally and a major military power in the Middle East; they just have a lot more to offer the Americans than the Kurds possibly can.

        There’s no way US policy is this rational, but the steelman is that the US gets nothing out of Syria so it’s leaving and it’s selling out a weak ally in favor of a strong ally.

        • albatross11 says:

          I don’t claim any deep expertise here, but I imagine it’s going to be pretty hard getting local allies next time we need them, with this fresh in everyone’s minds. Indeed, we needed (and got) help from the Kurds for our own purposes for the last 15 years or so. Now that we no longer seem to need them, it looks like we have utterly sold them down the river.

          I’m in favor of a much less interventionist foreign policy than we now have, but when we do intervene (and sometimes, we genuinely need to), it would be nice if we could get local allies who didn’t fully 100% expect us to screw them over in the end, and it would be nice if we could convince potentially-hostile powers that it is possible to make peace with us short of either being conquered or test firing a few nukes to let us know war will be unacceptably expensive. But our foreign policy over the last few years has probably made both of those ideas very hard to sell anyone on. We’ll be paying that bill for a long time, especially since we’re sure to continue with our usual violent, interventionist foreign policy. We’ll just be doing it with fewer allies and less ability to get anyone to agree to anything with us.

          • Nick says:

            That’s where I’m at with this, too. I don’t want us to be in Syria, or lots of other places. But I’m really not a fan of screwing the Kurds like this.

          • blipnickels says:

            To quote Daniel Larison:

            Despite this long record of exploiting and then abandoning proxies, somehow the U.S. is never lacking for armed groups that are willing to accept U.S. support in the future……That should tell us that proxies and allies don’t side with the U.S. because of some magical credibility based on our past record, but because they see it as being in their immediate interests to do so. Promises and threats are made credible by the interests and capabilities of the government that makes them.

          • cassander says:

            Allies don’t sign up with you because they like you, they sign up with you because they share your goals. Local stringers will always be available whenever the US shows up with guns, money, and a grudge against the people they have a grudge against.

          • John Schilling says:

            Local stringers will always be available whenever the US shows up with guns, money, and a grudge against the people they have a grudge against.

            Not nearly so many of them if they know that you’re going to be gone next year, grudges unresolved and them left behind with “collaborator” tattooed across their forehead for the rest of their lives.

          • Given my biases, I would favor a non-interventionist foreign policy plus an invitation to any Kurds who want to come here to do so. That’s not a very satisfactory compensation for abandoning our allies, but it’s at least something.

          • DragonMilk says: